North Carolina sculptor and designer Tom Haney creates a modern offshoot of the time-honored, Old World tradition of automata.
The artist: Born in Cincinnati, Haney grew up in a large creative family, and earned a degree in industrial design from the University of Cincinnati.
Before he became a full-time artist in 2000, Haney made props, models, and miniatures for TV, film, and advertising clients. This freelance work gave him time to make other things.
In 1993, Haney started to teach himself to carve, and in 1994, made his first articulated figure.
“It didn’t work for what I intended, so I decided to put the figure on a “stage” and have keys out front to operate the arms and legs,” said Haney. “This was my very first piece of kinetic artwork and led me to what I’m doing today.”
He lived and worked in Atlanta for 29 years before moving to Black Mountain, NC, in 2021.
The studio: Tom Haney Automata is based in Black Mountain. Haney converted the former two-car garage in the back yard into his studio.
In the beginning: Initially, Haney started with woodcarving. Then his fascination with mechanical movement lead home to combine it with his figurative carvings.
Eventually, he learned about automata, “a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being,” an ancient pursuit more thoroughly developed in the 13th to 19th centuries, mostly in Europe but also in Asia.
The art: Mostly automata or figurative, kinetic sculpture, using a wide variety of materials and processes. The fully kinetic pieces start around $2,000. Generally, they are about $3,000 to $8,000. Smaller static pieces range from $300 to $900.
The materials: Wood, polymer clay, fabric, and found objects, to create the figures and the scene for each special piece.
- Hand-carves basswood bodies, sculpts polymer clay heads, uses fabric to sew the clothes of his figures and incorporates various found object to help communicate the narrative of each piece.
- Searches out and collect, as an archivist or archeologist, discarded, obsolete artifacts that will add to the character or story.
- Designs and fabricates custom mechanisms from scratch (either electric motors or a hand crank, to move the figures.
(See videos of Haney’s fascinating and time-consuming designs and process on his various social media sites, listed below).
What’s popular: Commissions. People want a special piece about them, or more often, a loved one. Sometimes they want a figure or character that expresses an interest, like an opera singer, or a significant moment in their lives.
- Alexander Calder’s innovative mobiles.
- Jean Tinguely, a Swiss sculptor best known for his machine-like kinetic art sculptures.
- Lifetime fascination with any kind of kinetic artwork, or anything with movable parts.
Fun, special or unusual requests/commissions:
- A beekeeper
- An intricate phrenology head for a prominent collector.
Where to buy: tomhaney.com.
- Facebook: Tom-Haneys-Artwork
- Instagram: @tomhaneyartwork
- Youtube.com: tomcathead