In praise of industrial art
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
Art can be found in the most unexpected places, and while 'industrial art' might seem at first to be an oxymoron, it serves us well to remember that essentially everything we use, own, or are saving pennies for (even the simplest three-legged stool) probably got its start as a rough sketch on some long-forgotten sheet of paper. (And in some cases, some of those pieces of paper can end up having a considerable value of their own.)Skip to next paragraph
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So in recognition of the art behind the things we never think about, we have two sites for your perusal this week - one taking a direct look at the design process, and the other displaying a very specific category of output.
The first of these is the Smithsonian Institution's Doodles, Drafts & Designs. An online companion to a travelling exhibition, Doodles introduces visitors to the seldom-seen world of industrial drawings, and provides a general concept of the steps from rough idea to finished product. A fairly basic site (in Smithsonian terms at least), the presentation is divided into four exhibits - Working It Out, Convincing, Controlling, and Recording.
As the name implies, Working it Out explores early stages of putting an idea onto paper through sketches related to diverse products - from the "Brannock device" (that calibrated, overdeveloped, 'gas pedal' that measures your foot size in the local shoe store), to an excessively sophisticated (and presumably never produced) electro-mechanical fly catcher. (The portrayal of the dead flies is a nice, artistic, touch though.)
Displaying 'early development' of another sort, Working also offers some original Crayola test sheets, created while a new crayon formula was being developed. (No word on whether the recipe was eventually adopted.)
Convincing takes the process from personal or internal communication to selling the idea to outside world, with images from ads and catalogs, architect's proposals, and a few schematics. (Oddest among these is the "Red eye signal device" - a World War II design which appears to combine a retinal illuminator with a reflecting telescope.)
The contents of Controlling contain more ads and catalogs, but also include such aids to managing the manufacturing process as drawings and specifications for the standard railroad track spike, a completely unfathomable cross-section of a pocket watch, workplace 'incentive' posters, and seamstresses' instructions for the construction of the original Maidenform bras.
Finally, Recording holds an 1899 rendition of a "1500-KW Steam Turbine Alternator" that is a legitimate work of art in its own right, and patent drawings for Tupperware bowls and the aforementioned Maidenform. (The latter being a much more complex illustration than the former.)
The exhibit (at least the virtual version, which is all I can speak for) occasionally seems a bit random in its categorization. (Why some catalogs are in Convincing and others in Controlling is a bit of a mystery.) More frustrating is the lack of high-resolution files, which would have been enormously helpful in the case of the illustration of the inner workings of a watch (the thumbnail was actually of a higher magnification that the "Closer View" option). Detailed information about some of the objects displayed would have also been a welcome addition. That said, this tip of the iceberg is still worth the visit - if only to stop us from ever again taking telescoping shopping carts for granted.