Thursday, January 13, 2022

"The World is Your Oyster" - 2017 - A Commissioned Automaton - from a Wife to Her Husband

In 2017, a friend/business associate of my wife's, (now my friend), contacted me about her husband's upcoming 60th birthday. They were both big fans of my work, and have always wanted one of my pieces, but weren't sure which one.  My client (the wife) secretly contacted me about an idea she had. She wanted me to create a piece about all the things her husband loved - his most favorite things. We talked about it and narrow the ideas down to these 4 things - travel, art, reading, and his wife. We came up with an icon that would represent each love. As you can see the icons were - a globe, a sculpture, a stack of books, and a flower (to represent his wife). 

Here is how the piece came out..... it measures 18" x 20" x 10", and there's a door on front that opens to allows one to view the mechanisms. 

A closer look. The figure's head turns, and he turns at the waist so he can look directly at the 4 icons - as he 'salutes' them with his sword. 

The sword, his bowtie, his clothes, shoes, and glasses were very specific to the husband.

Another view.

I decoupaged the background piece before I painted it. I decided to add some pink highlights to the clouds that tie into the color of his shirt. 

His head, with his favorite glasses and ever-present bowtie. 

The sword.

The globe on its base.

His shoes. 

I especially like how the floor came out. 

The birthday note - and favorite quote - on the back.

The figure before painting. 
A line (polyester cord) goes through his left leg, up into his chest, to operate his right arm. A brass tube connected to his torso runs up through the brass tube in his right leg. And the steel rod connected to his head runs up through the brass tube. The head and the torso are independent of each other. 

As he is assembled. All hand-carved basswood with a polymer clay head. 

The 'icons", in progress. Each icon spins - as the figure 'salutes' it with his sword. 

The 4 'gears' that will move the icons. The 2 pulleys are directly connected to the rods, as are the 2 gears on the bottom. Two belts will transfer the movement from the 2 gears (top) to the 2 pulleys. 
***Note - These 'gears' are actually from a vintage Meccano set (similar to Erector Sets). I added the wooden core to the smaller ones, and for the large gear, I cut out a section from a larger piece and nailed it on. They work great together - I might have to look for more of these. 

The mechanism. The large wheel has teeth only in one small section. These teeth travel around and engage 4 smaller gears to spin each icon. The 2 large cams move the head and torso, and the ridges on top, control the arm with the sword. You can see the 4 small bearings where the icons are. The gears on the right side are to reduce the crank action - gear it down. There's also a ratchet to prevent cranking in the wrong direction. 

The gears for slowing down the crank, as well as the bevel gears that turn the drive 90 degrees. 

Another shot from back.

Here are the 2 cam followers for the head and torso, and the follower and lever for the sword arm. 

The frame for the mechanism (that hold the upper bearings) and the floor just about to be cut. The frame is loose from the base at this point.

Now the frame is connected to the floor, and the backdrop. This whole thing is removable, when needed.

The movie.... (watch fullscreen.)

The reception....

Thanks again for looking!



  1. But this is absolutely incredible! Pure genius. Happy Birthday to the gentleman with great taste!

  2. Tom, that's a beauty!

    Please say something about those gears with wood cores and metal teeth. I think you may have invented something groundbreaking there.
    Vance Bass