By honoring craftsmen in the area of model engineering with their inclusion in this museum, we are in effect saying that what they are doing goes beyond mere metalworking and into the area of a "work of art". Wm. Dubin also honors that tradition in a very direct way by taking elements of model engineering and turning them into kinetic sculpture that is displayed in an art gallery setting. These are pieces for those who see the elements and movement of vintage steam engines as more than a collection of metal pieces put together to do a particular job. The combination of these functional parts, their precisely machined surfaces, their interrelated movement and the aged patina of their surfaces becomes more than just an engine. It becomes a work of art.
Wm. Dubin started his career as a sculptor working in wood. Upon seeing an issue of Model Engineer magazine on the newsstand one day he realized what his work was missing: "precision". He was impressed by the beauty and precision of the steam engines he saw and felt that this precision was what he wanted to capture in his work. He bought a metal lathe and, with the help of a fellow artist and metalworker in the studio where he worked, set it up and began to make metal parts. He had no formal training in machining nor any experience, but went about learning the process on his own.
His first pieces were fairly organic. He then produced a piece that was very much like a steam engine. His next piece included elements of movement with belt driven shafts, and he knew he was on the track of what he wanted to do. But why not just build models of steam engines? Why turn them into art? Mr. Dubin explains the difference between his work and conventional model engineering:
"This question goes to the heart of what I do. I am a sculptor . When I construct something, it is specifically to make ďartĒ. While my sculptures have a great deal in common with model engineering, it is with the process of model engineering, rather than the end results. My sculptures are a way for me to express my ideas and reactions to the world I live in and to my experience of that world. Each piece I construct constantly evolves as my reactions to what Iíve just built alters my ideas of what Iíd like the final piece to look like. This is very different from model engineering, where the adherence to a specific prototype dictates most, if not all of the final appearance of the model. This is not to say that model engineering isnít artistic, quite the contrary. I continually see models which are amazingly artistic, however the intent of the model engineer is to closely resemble a prototype, not to create art. It is in this intent that the two differ.
This postulates two levels of engineering: the first, an aesthetic based engineering; the second, one in which the engineering does not go beyond function. In the first example, the finished piece compliments the prototype, but goes past the visual impact the prototype would make. This quality is elusive, but it exists and can be easily seen in the best work of model engineering and the fine arts.
What happens in these pieces, is a meeting of creativity, craftsmanship and a highly evolved personal aesthetic of beauty combining to produce a category unique to both model engineering and sculpture."
Jenny evolved from a sketch I had seen in Model Engineer, the Centennial Celebration Collection, #7 Stationary Steam Engines. The original sketch and letter were from J.A. Blythe (of Glasgow) and dated November 18, 1937. These appear on page 84 of the magazine. The sketch and description (from memory) are of the single cylinder steeple engine from the paddle steamer Glencoe built in 1846. The sketch (a side and end view) offered the most unusual configuration I had seen to date for a steam engine, and I knew I needed to build a sculpture based on the prototype.
My practice is to start with the basic mechanism, which I pretty much reproduce intact, and then to embellish the environment in which I locate it. In Jenny's case, as there was not going to be a ship's deck involved, I put her entablature on four stout columns, with the cylinder mounted underneath. Once the basic configuration was worked out, the parts were made in the traditional fashion.
Recently, I have been using tiny carbide ball-end bits in a Foredom shaft to create various textures by carving directly into the surfaces of the metal. With Jenny, I took this further than I had before, with the result that the sculptural aspects have asserted themselves, as opposed to the mechanical and the machined, in a very powerful way.
The biggest problem I encountered in building Jenny was designing her drive unit. I used a shaft with two sets of bevel gears running from the motor mounted in her base up to a sprocket and chain connected to her crankshaft. Jenny has a decidedly syncopated beat, both in her motion and her sound. The motion has a tiny visual stall at both TDC and BDC, and the sound she makes has a jazz beat that I've come to enjoy.
Jenny operates through an inverted "V" shaped yoke. The bottom of the yoke connects to the piston rod, and the top to the crosshead and side blocks. The whole rides between the two upright pieces that form the "steeple." The crosshead is linked to the connecting rod, the small end located between the twin frames of the yoke. The big end is attached to the crankshaft, which is located in the center of the entablature. There are two eccentrics located on either side of the crank journals. These activate the cylinder valve and the boiler feed pump.
Mr. Dubin's work is displayed in art galleries and sold as art. To read a more complete explanation of how he works, the techniques he uses and to see photos of all his projects to date, see his gallery on the web at (site temporarily out of commission).
An excellent article on Mr. Dubin's work including a cover photo appeared in the 10-23 January, 2003 (Vol. 190, No. 4186) of Model Engineer magazine. This is particularly appropriate since it was an issue of this magazine many years ago that inspired Mr. Dubin to proceed in this direction with his art.
You may see Mr. Dubin's latest work at his web site gallery at www.wmdubin.com.
(Click photo for larger image.)
|This mechanamorphic sculpture is called "Babette". (Each of Mr. Dubin's works is given its own name.) It is one in a series of art pieces that use the elements of model engineering combined with movement and a patina of aged metal to give the look and feel of an antique engine without copying any existing machine. Mr. Dubin works to the same levels of precision as other model engineers, but the goal of his work is to produce not a model of an engine, but rather to capture the essence of the look, feel and precision of engines at the dawn of the machine age.|
|A detail of Babette shows the high quality of the machining skill needed to capture the look and feel of an entire era in a single piece.|
|This overall view shows other details of Babette.|
|Another closeup shows the use of patinas to give an aged appearance on Babette.|
|An overall view of Medusa.|
|A close-up detail of Medusa.|
|Persephone exhibits a totally different personality.|
|A detail of the geartrain of Persephone.|
|Another close-up or Persephone shows the wealth of beautifully executed mechanical detail in the works of these fanciful engines.|
Jenny is 24" high, 24" long and 18" wide. All measurements include the base. She is built of brass, silver steel and cast iron.
|This view shows the flywheel and chain drive. Parts feature a unique etched patina that implies great age. (All photos courtesy of Melinda Holden.)|
|An overall front view of Jenny. On the front of the display stand can be seen the panel that controls the internal power unit to make Jenny move. Mr. Dubin's mechanomorphic sculptures are best appreciated when seen in motion.|
|This view shows the crankshaft|
|Seen from below is the engine mechanism at the lower level|
|Rear view of the lower mechanism|
|Another angle of the front view of the overall piece|
|Front 3/4 view|
|Flywheels and crankshaft|
|Crankshaft and unique curved linkages|
|Detail of lower mechanism|
|Rear view of the upper A-frame form|
|Rear view of the lower mechanism|
|A study in the patina of age on the base|
|A rear view of the crankshaft and upper mechanism.|
|This detail of the column base shows Mr. Dubin's unique application of a pattern of aged corrosion.|
If you have additional information on a project or builder shown on this site that your would like to contribute, please e-mail craig@CraftsmanshipMuseum.com. We also welcome new contributions. Please see our page at www.CraftsmanshipMuseum.com/newsubmit.htm for a submission form and guidelines for submitting descriptive copy and photos for a new project.
This section is sponsored by
Makers of precision miniature machine tools and accessories. Sherline tools are made in the USA.
Sherline is proud to confirm that William Dubin uses Sherline tools in the production of his small projects.
To learn how your company or organization can sponsor a section in the Craftsmanship Museum, please contact craig@CraftsmanshipMuseum.com.
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