Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Kinetic Artist George Rhoads 1926 - 2021


Kinetic artist George Rhoads died on July 9th in Louden, France. He was 95.

He created “audio-kinetic ball machines," which, according to the New York Times:

"... evoked the workings of watches and roller coasters, were built of comically designed tracks and devices like loop-the-loops and helical ramps, and were usually six- to 10-feet high. Scores of the machines have been installed in children’s hospitals, malls, science museums and airports and elsewhere in a dozen countries, but mostly in the United States and Japan.

"'Each pathway that the ball takes is a different drama, as I call it, because the events happen in a certain sequence, analogous to drama,' he said in an interview in 2014 with Creative Machines, which makes ball machines based on and inspired by his designs. 'The ball gets into certain difficulties. It does a few things. Maybe there’s some conflict. They hit or they wander, whatever it is and then there’s some kind of dramatic conclusion.'"

They are great fun to watch, as you can see in the video above. And Mr. Rhoads' kinetic sculptures can be seen in New York's Port Authority, Pittsburgh's airport (That's where I see them.) and ... all over the place. 

I met George and his wife by mere happenstance, and, with my Dad, had dinner with them over twenty years ago. Here's the story from an interview published last year:


Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

George Rhoads, an audiokinetic sculptor, bought my Dad's house in Ithaca, NY. This was a while ago when I was still working in a full-time “real job.” I had dinner with George, his wife and my Dad one day after George moved in in 1999. George is a working artist, best known for those sculptures with billiard balls that roll down tracks and make noises. His work is on display all over the world. He was a quiet fellow who seemed a bit gruff, but when I asked about his work, he showed me around their new home and was showing me how he works. He asked me about my plans and I told him that someday I would try to draw full-time. And he frowned at this and told me I would never be any good unless I did it full-time.

I could see the truth in his eyes. I felt it the moment he said it. Having an artist of his stature tell me this impacted me. I quit my job as acting head of graphics for Deloitte and Touche later that year. It was a hard choice, to leave the security – but one that I needed to do to prove to myself that I could cartoon full-time. Plus: Rhoads was right: I got better once I started cartooning more.


Thank you, Mr. Rhoads, for the encouragement. It meant a lot. And thanks for giving me a tour of where you work. So kind and generous. And your words gave me the kick in my butt I needed. My condolences to Mr. Rhoads' family.

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