Editor's Note: The following is the first article in a
series of two. Look for the second instalment in an upcoming
I regularly turn to woodcraft television shows for ideas and
inspiration. Several years ago, I watched a show called Marvelous
Mechalodeon, which featured a traveling mechanical theatre
created by Ernie Fosselius. The theater was an old motorhome
converted into a mobile display center and filled with mechanically
animated caricatures called automata, which he had carved.
I was immediately transfixed by those eccentric creatures.
Little did I realize that half an hour in front of the tube
would cause me to spend countless hours on this craft in the
years to come. I was hooked on learning the woodcraft that
Mr. Fosselius had made look so simple and fascinating.
author's version of automatist Ron Fuller's Lion Tamer.
The phrase "mechanical sculptures" can be used to
describe contemporary automata makers' creations. Any automaton
includes two essential elements: the use of mechanisms and
the art of carving, welding, or shaping. When you turn the
caricatures' crank handles, they spring to life and perform
a variety of movements. They often tell a story, convey a
point of view, or express an artistic statement.
artistic and sometimes silly, automata can also be very pricey.
While most creations by better-known artists have asking prices
ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars,
it's not unheard of to find rare early pieces that cost tens
of thousands of dollars.