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Artist Larry Fransen’s Kinetic Sculptures

This guest blog post is by Art League member Larry Fransen.

Currently on display in the Art League Gallery through September 8 is my kinetic sculpture, Wheels. (See and hear it in motion in the video above.) It has two wheels rotating in opposite directions, each constructed from acrylic, bicycle spokes, aluminum tubing, aluminum flat bar, and a ball bearing. Their rotation results in an intriguing movement that is ever-changing.

In addition to the movement, the sculpture has a pleasant sound and creates wonderful shadows. The movement will continue for eight hours per winding.

It has many features of a clock, such as a constant force spring as the power source (this type of spring is used in wind up clocks) and an escapement regulating the rotational movement (escapements are used in grandfather clocks). This sculpture uses an escapement invented by David Roy.

I have really enjoyed the transition from building clocks to creating kinetic sculptures. Building sculptures frees me to create greater motion with interesting shapes, colors, and materials. My first kinetic sculpture used various fluorescent acrylic colors. My second sculpture is Wheels.  I am currently building a third sculpture that has parts from ten black fishing rods, heavy black line, and ten colorful lures. Because the black line is going everywhere, I plan to call this sculpture Snagged. I am now free to have more fun.

My journey to create wonderful objects that move began over three decades ago when I put together a wood shop. Right at the start of my work in my new shop, I did not want to create stationary objects. Building clocks seemed like a challenging goal.

Larry Fransen - wooden clock

My first wooden clock was built from plywood with the teeth cut on the band saw. I took my crude clock to work to show the machinist. Most of my working career was spent creating digital speech compression algorithms at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) which is located across the Potomac from the Art League. The NRL machinists were not very impressed with my crude clock, and they suggested that I purchase a milling machine to cut my gears. With the purchase of a used milling machine and gear cutters, I built my first clock that was not an embarrassment. This clock as well as my other clocks are driven by a synchronous motor.

This wooden clock is a skeleton clock which attempts to show as much of the inner workings of the clock as possible. At some odd moment, I thought wouldn’t it be neat to eliminate that supporting structure that maintains the proper gear alignment. I created the first suspended clock. An early version of one of these clocks is shown here:

Larry Fransen - suspended clock

In this clock, the inner workings of the clock are suspended in a catenary from the two end points. Our suspended clocks were the first clocks that had gravity determining the position of the inner workings. With coworkers at NRL, I had been through the patenting process several times. Since I was familiar with this process, I patented the suspended concept, U.S. Patent 5,521,888. So, we now have patented art.

Larry Fransen - bicycle clock

Since these suspended clocks are constructed from sprockets and chain, I had a great desire to make one from bicycle components. The backside of my Bicycle Clock is shown here in my old studio. This clock took an entire year to finish. The supporting ends are fifteen feet apart. The rotating bicycle foot pedals are the second hand. My artistic son Michael created the lady called Esmeralda lying on the shelf.

Larry Fransen - bicycle clock

The two bicycle wheels are the hands for this clock. The reflector on the large wheel is the minute hand and the reflector on the small wheel is the hour hand. The Bicycle Clock is telling us that it is about 16 minutes before three.

This picture was taken with the clock in the 2002 Art League and Washington Square Sculpture Show on Connecticut Ave in Washington, DC. This took one of the first place prizes. This also took first prize in sculpture at an art show in the Mitchell Gallery, St. Johns College of Annapolis, MD and was shown as part of kinetic art week at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. The Bicycle Clock now resides in a museum called Time Story in South Korea.

Larry Fransen - Time Story
Schoolchildren viewing Bicycle Clock in South Korea.

All my clocks were driven by synchronous motors requiring that they be plugged into a wall outlet. I had a great desire to get away from this limitation. This is what led me to the present day efforts to power my sculptures with springs. In this case, I believe old tech is better than new tech. I wrote this blog post typing on a Mac using a sophisticated word processor. Go figure!

Wheels from “Structures,” open through September 8.
Wheels from “Structures,” open through September 8.

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