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George Rhoads

Paris, France

George Rhoads is well known for his large audio-kinetic ball sculptures that attract and engage people throughout the world. Balls roll and percussion devices clatter and chime in airports, hospitals, art museums, science museums, shopping centers, and other public places. Rhoads has designed over 250 unique pieces, virtually all of which are still in operation.

As a child, Rhoads was always drawing. He constructed diverse mechanisms, among which were a Ferris wheel, a barometer, an astronomical clock, and a sailing bicycle. A gifted painter, he began in the late fifties to show welded steel sculptures and kinetic copper fountains as well as paintings. His first audio-kinetic sculptures were small, some involving the use of rolling balls to impel various sound and motion devices.

In his sculptures, Rhoads strives to demystify technology. He says that “machines are interesting to everybody, but people usually don’t understand them because, as in a gasoline engine, the fun part goes on inside the cylinder. So I’ve restricted myself to mechanisms that you can see and understand quickly.” The chief goal of his machines is to engage people in play. He sees himself as a prophet of the mature industrial age, a time in which the upheaval and human suffering brought about by the industrial revolution will have subsided, and, for machines as well as people, there will be no distinction between work and play. James Seawright, director of the visual arts program at Princeton University, says of Rhoads’ sculptures, “they embody almost every basic element of machinery, combined in a bewildering variety of ways. There’s a level of mechanical genius behind inventing complex mechanisms; that’s what George has.

You look at one of his pieces and get a sense of overall design, but then you must trace out the details for yourself. The enjoyment comes from seeing your expectations fulfilled.” In 1970 Rhoads moved to upstate New York, where he now lives. There he began working closely with Bob McGuire who constructed the sculptures and installed them in such far-flung places as Guam, Seville, Kobe, and Seoul. Bob McGuire worked closely with George Rhoads over a thirty-year period to develop the tricks and techniques for making reliable audio-kinetic sculptures. Together they created over 250 such sculptures around the world, every one unique and virtually all of which are still in operation.

In 2007 Bob McGuire retired from making audio kinetic sculptures and invited Creative Machines, a multidisciplinary design and fabrication firm located in Tucson, AZ, to continue his partnership with George Rhoads. Creative Machines had its own history making interactive exhibits and public art and so welcomed the chance to take on this exciting work. Bob worked closely with Creative Machines for several months, training their people in his specialized techniques. Today, George Rhoads trusts Creative Machines to make his visions a reality as he continues to design new sculptures and new devices for the balls to interact with.
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