Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Marvelous fun at Marvin's

While my nephews are in town, I wanted to take them someplace interesting. I love arcade games and amusement machines and automatons, and they were quite fascinated with my stories of the Musée Méchanique while I was in San Francisco, so I thought it might be fun to take them to our local version of the Musée here in metro Detroit: Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum (on Facebook).

One of the most interesting things to me is what people of the time period considered amusing or entertaining. For a generation that had only just begun to see moving images, small scenes enclosed in glass with a few moving parts were probably amazing. Dan the Drinking Man, for example, would drink from a bottomless glass. There were always risqué machines in nearly every arcade during the turn of the century; Naughty Marietta is an example.

Other popular machines included fortune tellers like Zelda the Mysterious, who was imported to Marvin's from Coney Island. (She predicted that I should "beware of a dark haired one who is jealous of your success in life and will try to make trouble.")

Zelda the Mysterious, Laurel Moon

Music automatons such as player pianos, music boxes, and machines that could play songs with a number of instruments were also popular; this Regina music box is quite beautiful. At the House on the Rock in Wisconsin they have a number of music automatons (some of the huge, the size of rooms) such as this:

The Blue Danube Room at the House on the Rock, Laurel Moon

What I most love are the amazing details found on some of the machines. Elaborate metal findings and handcarved wood, beautiful lettering, and paintings often embellish the machines of the past.

Metal coin insertion point on weight machine at Marvin's, Laurel Moon

Rajah machine at Marvin's, Laurel Moon

Hand plate for novelty machine, Marvin's, Laurel Moon

Rajah knows all, Marvin's Laurel Moon

Carved figure from carousel machine, Marvin's, Laurel Moon

The atmosphere at Marvin's is amazing. There are giant vintage posters of magicians and every single square inch is crammed with amazing artifacts and astonishing marvels.

Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, Laurel Moon

Seeing these beautiful creations reminds me about the details in my own work, and how to create something that pleases but also shares beauty with the world. It also reminds me of the human condition, and how even though we change, we still stay the same, with the same appetites, fears, and desires.

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