Throwback Thursday: Big Gallery Art and Automata by Randy Regier

From dinosaur tracks to insects, from discovering Talking Walls of stories around the world to wondering What About Whales?, the Big Gallery (currently the home of the Playscape) has been the perfect space for many different exhibits over the years. In 2010, it played host to SmartArt, a huge exhibit dedicated to the fusion of art and science.

Portland’s own Randy Regier, an MFA graduate of our neighbors the Maine College of Art, designed two parts of the “Sound and Motion” component of SmartArt: Automata Dancers and Wake Up! 1, 2, 3. When we interviewed him about his work for Kitetails, he stated, “I imagine stories I wished had happened in the past and the objects that are part of those stories, and I make them come ‘true’ by building the objects. Often in my work the objects are toys.” In the area of Oregon where Regier grew up, there were no nearby toy stores, so he made his own as a child. The automata that Regier designed for SmartArt were colorful toys shaped like retro robots.

What exactly are automata? Automata is the plural of automaton, a Greek word meaning acting of one’s own will. (Think “automatic!”) Have you ever seen a cuckoo clock, or a clockwork doll that can write or serve tea? Cuckoo clocks are a great example of automata: the gears in the clock make the bird (or sometimes several objects) move in a certain way; the craftsmen David Roentgen and Peter Kintzing even created an automaton of Marie Antoinette in the late 1700s that plays the dulcimer! Automata usually have a recognizable physical shape, like a human or animal, and can act mechanically on their own without the aid of electricity; usually because of their shape, they mimic real human or animal movements. In fact, there are surviving automata from throughout several centuries, and accounts of mechanical figures dating back to ancient China and Greece!

Regier's Automata Dancers
Regier’s Automata Dancers

To make Regier’s automata move in our SmartArt exhibit, a visitor had only to play a nearby instrument made of found objects. The toys would respond to the vibrations caused by the instrument and dance!

SmartArt (3)
A young visitor makes Regier’s automata dance.

 

Regier’s delightful and thought-provoking toy art has been featured throughout Maine, including nearby Space Gallery; the United States; and even in Madrid, Spain. You can learn more about his work at his website (ask an adult to help you visit!), randyregier.com.

Keep your eyes on our calendar for new ways we’re fusing science and art this winter and spring… including mini robot making labs!

Sneak a peek at Smart Art!

It’s hard to believe that all these bits and pieces will soon be one big interactive exhibit. Talk about transformations!

I love the final weeks before a new exhibit opens – they’re busy and exciting for everyone on staff. Educators are planning new programs that will help introduce visitors to the new exhibit. The front line staff and those of us in the marketing department are learning all we can about the exhibit so we’ll be able to spread the word to members, visitors and the community. But it’s the exhibits and operations department who are especially busy – in just a few short weeks, they have to remove all traces of the departing exhibit and install all dozens of brand new components!

The incoming exhibit, Smart Art, will be open to the public this Friday, May 21st. This is the fifth exhibit in a very special series, the Environmental Exhibits Collaborative, or EEC (you may remember Turtle Travels, Treehouses, Attack of the Bloodsuckers, or Dinotracks – they were all a part of this collaborative, too). Our staff worked with a group of museums in New England and Canada to develop and build these exhibits; over the past five years, the exhibits have toured through all of our museums.

These little charmers will soon be butterflies in our butterfly garden. We’ll say we knew them when!

EEC exhibits have always been a lot of fun for us and our visitors, and I was especially excited to hear about some of the ways that Smart Art’s visit to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine will be unique. We’ve chosen a local artist in residence, Galen Richmond, who will create musical art and work with our visitors. We’re also adding a butterfly garden to highlight the exhibit’s theme, transformation.

If you are a member or a volunteer, you’re invited to an exhibit opening on Thursday, May 20th from 5:30-7pm. We’ll have food, activities, special guests and good company. It’s a free event for the whole family! RSVP to Kathryn at kathryn@kitetails.org.  (And of course, if you become a member by Thursday, you’re invited, too! Click here for membership information.)