AutomataCon 2016 – The First Convention for Automata Enthusiasts
March 18-20th Morristown, New Jersey, USA
Reviewed by Michael Start of The House of Automata U.K.
Automata lovers from all over the world gather at the Morris Museum, home of the extensive Guinness collection of automata, for a weekend of inspiring presentations.
Like all people who spend their time reclusive in workshops and studios, surrounded by machinery, the idea of rubbing shoulders with hundreds of people for a whole weekend can seem uncomfortable. But if those crowds all speak the same language, a language of the machine and how it interprets life, then an event like this showed we are all cogs in the same great piece of clockwork.
The idea for a convention stemmed from the enthusiasm of the members of the Automata/Automaton Facebook Group, co-ordinated by Brett King and made possible by the cooperation of Steve & Jere Ryder, curators of the Guinness collection who offered the Morris Museum as a venue.
Antique Automaton for Sale
Makers, collectors and restorers came from places as far as Korea, France, Germany, a UK contingent and all over the USA, with the attendee list reading like a Who’s Who of the world of Automata. There was a diversity of special interest groups well represented, including Magicians, Curators, Steampunks, Artists and paper Engineers all of whom found common ground and interesting events in the schedule.
Following the opening reception the convention began with the premier of an extremely rare ‘lost’ 1928 film “Le Monde des Automates” which brought to life the revered reference books of the same name. Well produced with high production values the film showed automata in both a technical and dreamlike way.
The convention featured a hall of special exhibition tables, where one could see and often buy examples of modern automata and an extensive array of antique automata for sale in various conditions. As well as mechanical Archers and Acrobats, I saw examples of micro automata, magic automata and greeting card automata for sale including a flat pack cardboard pinball machine and a table full of mechanical crawling socks. The most inspiring thing was to see and talk to modern makers like Tom Haney, and Dug North actually explaining, demonstrating and making sales of their best work
The permanent exhibition of antique French automata at the Morris Museum was open to view all the time, along with the reserve collection. The modern displays are curated by antique automata experts Steve & Jere Ryder whose flair and passion really bring out the magic of these automata characters.
More than 20 events and presentations filled the weekend back to back, ’Intro to Making Automatons’, ‘Restoring Antique Automata’, ‘History and Magic of Automata’, ‘Clockwork Automata of the Gilded Age’ and many more, each presented by leaders in their specialism. The halls and rooms were full to capacity with colleagues, enthusiasts and members of the public creating a buzz of attentive excitement and the organisers wisely allowed plenty of time for questions and often animated discussion that accompanied them.
We all felt drawn together in the discovery of how these machines can entertain and amaze us.
It was an ambitious step to include contemporary and antique automata in the same event but the mix proved to be a very successful one. The youth and artistry of today proved no different to that which inspired the great automata makers of the past, whose creations were exhibited alongside the best of today.
This was a truly inclusive event were all visitors and participants, even those with a passing interest, seemed to quickly realise that they we were all vital parts of the automata universe.
I think you can tell I liked it!
The Morris Museum, New Jersey USA
Home of the Guinness Collection of Automata
The Automata / Automaton Facebook Group
Automata at the Morris Museum
The House of Automata
Organiser Brett King with Automata Artist Tom Haney looking into the future.