Sunday, November 27, 2011

Automata: Mechanical Wonders of the Nineteenth Century at SFO

Fiddler c. 1910 . probably by Renou . France .papier-mâché, fabric, paint, metal, glass, wood, hair  Collection of SFO Museum

If you are stuck out at SFO this holiday season, this exhibit can help you pass the time. The new exhibition features exquisite mechanical figures and musical machines from the 19th century.

Before the Industrial Revolution, automata were created mainly as one-of-a-kind scientific experiments, political or religious theater, and given as diplomatic gifts. Eventually they became promotional devices to attract sales. French manufacturers later incorporated mass-production technology to produce musical automata, musical dolls, clockwork singing birds, and tableaux méchaniques (mechanically animated scenes) to meet the increasing demand for these new forms of entertainment.

From the mid-1800s to the 1900s, automata served as parlor entertainment. Many skilled artisans were required to manufacture these clockwork machines. They were not considered toys for children, but rather items of social privilege and status - which didn't prevent me from wanting to play with them!
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