Futuristic robots welcome visitors to Rockwell exhibit

A group of futuristic visitors will grace the grounds of the Norman Rockwell Museum through Oct. 30

A group of futuristic visitors will grace the grounds of the Norman Rockwell Museum through Oct. 30 in Robot Nation: An Outdoor Installation for the 21st Century.

The exhibition is a complement to the museum’s indoor show, “ ‘Ice Age’ To the Digital Age: The 3D Animation Art of Blue Sky Studios,” which explores the studio’s work, including the movie “Robots.”

The museum invited artists to submit proposals for three-dimensional, large-scale weatherproof robot sculptures for the exhibition and selected 15 to be on exhibit on the grounds.

“Robot Nation” provides a great example of the breadth of creativity in the artistic community. Within the single theme comes everything from massive robotic saw blades to a robot mom with kids. “It’s a nice eclectic collection of different styles and different mediums for a very unique subject matter,” said Thomas Mesquita, the museum’s registrar. The pieces range from simple in design to extremely complex.

Robot Nation: An Outdoor Installation for the 21st Century

WHERE: Norman Rockwell Museum, 9 Route 183, Stockbridge, Mass.

WHEN: Through Oct. 30, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

HOW MUCH: Outdoor viewing work is free; admission to museum is $15-$5, free for children 5 and under

MORE INFO: 413-298-4100, www.nrm.org

Reclaimed material

Many of the sculptures include reclaimed steel and other repurposed items. Matt Evald Johnson’s “David,” which won the “SuperBot Best in Show” award, is a case in point. Loosely based on the Biblical story of David and Goliath, it is a 12-foot-tall figure with its foot resting on the head of the slain Goliath. “He’s kind of menacingly celebrating his triumph over his foe,” Johnson said.

At first, the viewer sees the whole figure in its victorious stance. “The nice thing about it is that the artist really paid quite a bit of attention to posture and implied motion into it,” Mesquita said.

Johnson bent, hammered, nailed, bolted and welded together this assembly of scrap pieces into the intimidating figure to convey his theme. “The gesture carried with it all the tone and psychologically what you want it to feel like,” said Johnson, who worked in “laborious bursts of execution” three to four hours a day in his Easthampton, Mass., studio to create the piece.

“You really get overwhelmed by the size of it,” Mesquita said. All of the objects in “David” are “found.” But upon further study, the viewer can begin to pick out the individual pieces within the whole.

Johnson said that he goes to salvage and wrecking yards looking for materials, which he keeps and pulls ideas from when it’s time to create.

Texas entry

Vincent Villafranca of Alvord, Texas, was thrilled to hear about the call for entries from his friend, James Gurney, who designed the piece “Stanley,” which is also in the exhibition. Until about six years ago, Villafranca’s bronze sculptures catered to the market in his native Texas with traditional imagery of western and wildlife art.

But he had been a lifelong fan of science fiction. He decided to disassemble some old farm implements and machines on his ranch and create a robot sculpture. After a good reception at an Austin exhibition, he continued creating robot sculptures, so “Robot Nation” seemed like the perfect venue for his work.

Like many of the other artists, he uses found objects, but he makes rubber molds and then wax copies before casting the pieces in bronze.

This is how he created “The Inquisitive Nomad,” which won the “SteamPunkBot” award in the show. The piece is layered with meaning. The spiral in the bird head of the figure’s staff symbolizes somebody on a celestial journey. “The robot itself is having some sort of crisis, and it got off track from its programming,” Villafranca said. Now that it’s wandering, it is searching for its origin.

He poured a mold of an ostrich egg and used this as the basis for the sculpture. “It kind of realizes that it came from an organic beginning with this connection with the egg, and it’s now a mechanical being.”

A question mark on the robot’s necklace points to the metaphysical underpinnings of the piece. “The question mark is basically symbolic of the typical human condition — that we’re searching. It’s just kind of a metaphor for the typical human,” he said.

Even though he creates futuristic subject matter, Villafranca still characterizes himself as a traditionalist at heart. “I am also really into this idea of utilizing a really traditional and ancient medium — that being bronze — to create these speculative and futuristic images.”

Different approach

Stephen A. Klema of Winsted, Conn., received the “ArtBot” award for his entry “Hobb’s Claw — Robotic Mining Sawblade Prototype C7218A1-6, circa 1951.” He took a unique approach to the robot theme with this massive sculpture that resembles a saw blade emerging from the ground. “I thought it might be interesting to take a different direction and trying something a little more unusual,” he said.

The sculpture is 12 feet wide, 4 feet tall and 1 foot thick, constructed primarily of wood with some metal behind some of the wood pieces to give it a more industrial quality.

“It’s built to look like a prototype of something that might be more streamlined today,” he said. He worked 12-hour days for two weeks creating the piece.

The artists have used all kinds of materials, including roofing, can tops, electrical conduit, bundt pans, tin cans, a thermometer, a water tank and taillights from a 1949 Oldsmobile, to name a few, to create this engaging array of robotic figures.

“What I would like to see visitors come away with is a sense of creativity — feeling that they also can be creative within themselves with very simple materials,” Mesquita said.

Other awards given were the “ModBot” award to “Regal Robot” by Angelo J. Sinisi, “ClassicBot” and “WowBot Viewer’s Choice” awards to “Mr. Fahrenheit” by Steve Heller, and the “KidBot Children’s Choice” award to “The Shaman” by John Catalano.

Categories: Life and Arts

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