Historical Sculptures

David's First Kinetic Sculpture

David and I collected lots of video footage of his early work while preparing for his TEDx talk. We promised to start sharing some of it on the blog and this post is a first in that series.  It makes all the sense to start at the beginning.  

B.W. Cornwallis is David's very first wall-mounted kinetic sculpture. It was designed and built back in 1975. David was trying to answer the question that people always asked of his human-powered gadget Xylo. "But can you make it run longer?"

His first experiment to do so had been a behemoth of a design called Albert. Albert was a great learning exercise, and it worked, but it was huge, free-standing and lacked grace.  The design break-through came when David started using the wall for support and B.W. is the first of a long series of wall-mounted, weight driven, kinetic sculptures.

B. W. is very much a sculpture of a mechanism, as were all of David's first experiments.  He worked to develop imaginative designs using simplified escapement theory. Very basically, a falling weight attached to a string provides energy to the sculpture while the sculpture itself regulates the fall of the weight.  

The rolling wheel shifts the balance of the mechanism, releasing the catch on the cog. The weight starts to fall, this turns the cog causing the cog to change angle of the ramp mechanism the rolling wheel is on. The mechanism then catches the cog, preventing further fall of the weight. The wheel continues rolling shifting balance again and the cycle repeats. This basic concept powers all of David's weight and spring driven sculptures. It is easier to see in B.W.  

B. W Cornwallis was first shown at a small Connecticut craft fair and sold almost immediately, along with Inventor Released and Serendipity. David had made one of each (he really didn't expect that they would sell!) and he went back to his workshop to build additional copies. He couldn't get B. W. to work again.  He quickly learned to always keep a working prototype of all his work to be able to refer back to it. 

B.W. was not a very reliable design and David quickly moved on to better concepts. The next year, the original B.W. buyers returned and said it no longer worked. David offered a trade for any new designs because he really wanted his first design back. We still have the original B.W. Cornwallis and unpacked it after 35 years to video tape it. David set it up and with a minimum of tweaking, he got it working again for this video.

It was excitement all over again. It worked! It is a great piece of history!

Early Wooden Mechanisms for TEDx


David and I have been hard at work preparing for his TEDx Talk on Sept. 16th.  Oodles of minutes have been shot for new videos and David has spent hours trying to pare down 35 years of discovery and inspiration into 18 minutes of talk.  Significant portions of his work which were never captured in video before are now being recorded. Here is a short video collage displaying detail shots of six of his earliest reliable mechanisms.

Top Row (L to R) Anticipation, Wandering Asterisk, Serendipity

Bottom Row (L to R) Inventor Released, Tumbleweed, Crazy Eight

The keyword is reliable. During the early years of Wood That Works David designed many, many mechanisms.  Only a few worked reliably and were expanded to become sculptures.  Most didn't.  I provide this as words of encouragement to those of you trying to create kinetic sculpture yourselves. It takes a lot of experimentation to understand mechanisms and their peculiarities. And even more to control it for creating patterns.

Links of Interest:



David to Speak at TEDx • BGSU


Exciting news! David has been invited to speak about his work at a TEDx conference on September 16th at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

TEDx Logo

David generally doesn't do speaking engagements because there just isn't enough time in the day.  If you are a follower of TED talks you'll automatically understand why this one is different.  If you have never seen a TED Talk then you should take some time and watch the best.  You'll not be disappointed. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design and the universal theme is "Ideas Worth Spreading." Local organizations can sponsor regional TED Talks called TEDx events.  David has been invited to participate in the TEDx conference at Bowling Green State Univeristy on September 16th. The theme of this event is "Passion, Inspiration, Action!".

Needless to say things are in a turmoil here as we prepare. We have been searching through the physical archives. Tucked away is the histroy of this 35 year odyssey and in that history one finds the roots of the passion and insipiration behind Wood That Works.


Wood That Works Storage


We have been unpacking boxes and video taping some of David's earliest work. The gallery is in shambles because it is currently a video studio as we try to capture designs David created long before personal video was an option.

David Roy video taping his kinetic sculptures


 The boxes are filled with surprises, the original working prototypes for so many of his editions. We uncovered the very first B.W. Cornwallis which was the first wall mounted sculpture created in 1976. Although B.W. required some tweeking to get it operational almost all of the designs worked as soon as the weights were attached. It has been a nostalgic week to say the least. Images and videos for many blog posts are being collected.  Here is a teaser sampler of some close-ups from B.W.©1976


B.W. Cornwallis by David Roy


B.W. Cornwallis kinetic sculpture


B.W. Cornwallis by David Roy, motion sculpture detail


If you live in the vicinity of Bowling Green, Ohio consider getting a ticket to the conference. The hope is that David's presentation will make it into the TED Talks archives so that even those that can't attend wil be able to hear and see what David has to share via YouTube.



Directions for Your Kinetic Sculpture!


David has been creating kinetic sculptures for a very long time - since the 70's. And for each design out there we have created directions for the owners.  This started long before we had a computer so many of the directions aren't in digital format. Here is an example of the illustration that is part of the Inventor Released Directions Packet. 

Others are in formats no longer readable by today's software. We have known for awhile that we needed to make this archive of directions available online but oh, what a job! Thanks to our daughter Amy that project is now well on its way to completion. She has scanned all directions that were not digital or could no longer be opened and she saved them in pdf format. She has also saved all directions that could still be accessed in pdf format as well. And she has uploaded them all, created links to their photos and made it all accessible to you. 

Available today is the the Wood That Works Directions Page here. There is a phenomenal listing of sculptures created by David over the years.  

Now, the next time you need the instructions for your David C. Roy kinetic sculpture you can simply download a copy here.

Many of the newer designs have online directions already. The most recent designs will be getting similar webpages and downloads as well.

Thanks, Amy! 





Variation Jazz • No Longer Missing!


It was recently discovered that the video on the Variation Jazz page was not Variation Jazz.  David is not sure when that mix up occurred but one of his recent tasks was to find the appropriate video and correct the error. Although original clips were available, the movie was missing so David has recreated the Variation Jazz video.  It is a great sculpture with the signature hex based patterning of the entire variation series.

David is often asked about the background music pieces that accompany many of his videos. He uses SonicFire Pro from SmartSound. It is production music software that includes a royalty free music library. He uses it to customize the length, arrangement and instrument mix to meet the requirements of each video.  One can "compose" tracks that reflect the essence of a design like the jazzy rhythms included in the above video. He can't send you the name of the piece or the artist because he crafts it out of the provided components in the software. This digital age we live in and the resources that are available to expand it are just amazing.