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!),

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

Meet Galen Richmond: SmartArtist-in-Residence!

Galen is our artist in residence, and will be spending time weekly at the Museum prototyping and testing out ideas for

Galen performed for our members at the opening of the SmartArt exhibit.

 a series of works that he will be installing in SmartArt, our current science exhibit. He’ll install the first piece today at 4:00.  As an artist in residence, he’ll be spending a lot of time at the Museum working on art with our visitors – click here for dates and times.

To get to know Galen and to better understand his work, I asked him a few questions – read on to learn more about this Smart Artist!

PS. If you enjoy live music, you may have seen Galen before – he performs music under the name Computer at Sea. He’s been featured on 207 and has performed at many venues and music festivals!

Chris: What is your medium? Galen: The work that I do generally deals with electronics and sound, which can mean a lot of different things.  For some pieces I construct circuits from scratch, and for others I modify existing electronic hardware.  I have a particular focus on repurposing 80’s era videogame equipment and musical toys.

 Chris: What are the themes in your art?

Galen: A sense of play underscores much of what I do.  I’m interested the intersection of the varying definitions of play- playing a game, playing a musical instrument, seeing a theatrical play.  I aim to produce work that inhabits the boundaries of these different definitions.  

Chris: When did you start making art?

Galen: Though I’ve been involved with music and writing for most of my life, I’ve only been creating visual art since early in 2007.   I came to it accidentally, through researching handmade electronic instruments.  One of the first circuits that I built was a low wattage amplifier, and once I wired it up I realized that I didn’t have anything to house the circuit in.  I had that day picked up a vintage Bobsey Twins book at a thrift store, for no other reason than because it was an especially handsome old book.  I hollowed the book out, carved a speaker grill in the front of it, and installed the circuit.  That book inspired a larger installation piece where I constructed a small library of electronic books.  Since then, I’ve been creating more complex circuits and more ambitious installations. 

Continue reading “Meet Galen Richmond: SmartArtist-in-Residence!”

SmartArt Exhibit Opening

On Thursday, May 20 we held a SmartArt exhibit opening for our members and volunteers. Everyone had a blast exploring the exhibit, enjoying our smart snacks and we even had some raffle winners! We’d like to thank Pie in the Sky Pizza for donating their delicious pizzas, Ben & Jerry’s for donating our raffle prizes, Poland Spring for the bottled water and all our staff and volunteers who spent Thursday preparing for a fun-filled exhibit party! Here are some pictures from the event. Visit our facebook page for even more!