A Recent History of Automata
Contemporary automata making began in the 1930s after Alexander
Calder from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, built his famous wire
circus. It included the use of corks, strings and other assorted
materials. Sam Smith of Southampton, England, entered the
scene in the 1960s and showed a passion for wooden automata.
His work had considerable influence on future generations
of automatists, many of whom went on to influence contemporary
In the early 1980s, Sue Jackson founded Cabaret Mechanical
Theatre (CMT) in London, England. It is a hybrid of gallery,
museum and shop, and displays a huge collection of automata.
CMT artists such as Paul Spooner, Matt Smith and Ron Fuller,
along with other automatists such as Frank Nelson, have since
brought contemporary automata making to center stage.
in making and collecting automata has grown in Europe, the
United States, Japan and Australia. In the US, there are more
than a dozen automatists, including Dug North and Steve Armstrong,
whose works are well regarded. In Canada, at least one couple
is known to be selling their art.
Ideas and Designs
Automata makers' ideas can come from experiences, stories,
the work of other automatists or the work of other artists.
For example, my creation called The Making of a Couch Potato
is based on a cartoonist's comic strip entitled The Ascent
of Man. Some artists choose a certain theme, such as entertainers,
animals, etc., upon which they focus their creations.
Often, the origins of their designs can be easily traced.
For instance, Pierre Mayer, a French artist who creates magic
automata, often draws his ideas from magic performances he
Making of a Couch Potato, by Charles Mak, shown partway
through the construction process.