Move, an a-n Professional Development Bursary

This blog charts my 2019 a-n Bursary trip in The UK looking at Automata models and movements, and learning new wire skills. It’s a physical journey, but also a time of movement and change after illness and travelling towards a new artistic practice.

Timberkits, The Art of Movement in Rural Wales

As the first leg of my journey about movement, I set off from North Wales to Llanbrynmair in beautiful rural Mid Wales to meet up with Sarah Reast from Timberkits. Sarah is the daughter of the founder, Eric Williamson, who along with his wife Alison, set up the family business with a real wish to create a local creative business and provide employment.

This is what Timberkits says about Eric ‘Automata makers are a rare and misunderstood breed, isolated by their obsession with bringing inanimate materials to life and the workings of cogs, wheels and waggle sticks. The words eccentric, mad and genius often apply and who better to illustrate this than Eric Williamson. He may be seen on a regular basis around Machinations, recognisable by the beard, dusty clothes, pockets of tools and a distracted expression. Eric trained as a fine art painter in the 60s when it was OK to wear paisley fish-tail ties and live in the hills doing weird stuff.’

Eric did indeed make an appearance when Sarah took time out to give me a tour of their workshops and design room, complete with shelves of models past and present and works in progress getting their mechanisms tweaked and refined.

It is interesting to see the path that Timberkits and  Machinations (their exhibition space and public area for children)have taken, and the sometimes uneasy relationship they have had with other automata makers in the UK who have gone down the route of making one-off pieces of Automata Art. What Timberkits does so well is provide both joy in the act of making for those people who simply want to put together a cleverly designed moving kit, but also, as their photo gallery testifies, their kits provide an accessible and affordable way in for anyone interested in the world of Automata making, an often niche and rarified art form, somewhat mysterious, complex and difficult. By learning mechanisms through Timberkits it’s then possible to experiment and start creating new models.

Sarah was very honest about their lack of funding for the somewhat dusty Automata exhibition. She said don’t make a special trip to visit. But for anyone interested in Automata in the UK I would disagree. Not only is it in a lovely part of rural Wales (with a nice cafe), but in a very small and specialised field of niche making, with almost no permanent exhibitions since Cabaret Mechanical closed theirs in Covent Garden(They now run touring exhibitions) they represent both history and a very particular solution to how to make a creative business out of a complex individual art form. If you visit, see if you can catch Sarah or Eric among the gears and wood shavings for a fascinating chat about movement and mechanisms.

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