Dead Nuts

Like my Pier 24 post, this is another summer visit that got caught in the backlog of move-related business.

I was sort of obligated to check out the Museum of Craft and Design’s show, Dead Nuts. Buiding a show around the concept of “The ultimate machined object”? Super up my alley and a great intellectual exercise. Do you go with something basic or complex? Beautiful or functional? I was looking forward to seeing how the museum presented the possibilities.

It was a good show with a lot of good choices I recognized such as the Curta calculator, original Bridgeport mill, Harrison‘s Marine Chronometer, and even a simple quarter-20 machine screw. And there were a lot of of cool new products I had never heard of such as a planimeter or Newbould indexer.

At it’s best this was a celebration of machining and the ability to produce highly exacting and complicated mechanisms using relatively simple machines.

Just the flourish of being able to mill a hole in a human hair and the minuscule tolerances some of the mechanisms require is a reminder to celebrate the craft of machining parts in the same we we appreciate the craft of painting or sculpting.

At the same time the exhibition also betrayed its origins in an internet forum. So many of the nominated devices were military, weapons, cars, etc. Yes I appreciate how these items are frequently the driving force of technical innovation but it’s a depressing thing to see a significant number of men insist that the pinnacle of machining is enabling us to kill people more efficiently.

Still, that the curation involved putting the forum discussions on the wall was good. For every post that ran down the path of war there were others pulling things back and focusing on small technical innovations rather than the entire mechanism. And there were other posts that intentionally went in other directions to call out more-common items like the sewing machine or typewriter that existed in everyone’s home.

It’s not just that those devices are technically fascinating from a machinist’s point of view, they also impacted everyone in a much more personal way. Are they the “ultimate” object? Who’s to say. But the reminder to appreciate the craft of things you have at your fingertips rather than gushing over technical marvels you’ll never see in person is a good one.

As a parent and a bit of a gearhead I’d much rather get my hands dirty with my kids and look into mechanical things that are more familiar. Take some old toys apart. Look at an old typewriter. Find a geared clock and see how an escapement actually works. That the show never lost this aspect is what saved it from getting fully derailed by the internet.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

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