Recycled gadgets come to life at Port Discovery’s ‘Springs and Sprockets’


Steve Gerberich’s “St. Nick” arrives on a sleigh unlike any you’ve seen before. The piece is part of the exhibit “Holiday Springs & Sprockets” at Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore. (Ken Stanek)
December 3, 2013

Eight life-size reindeer fly through the air on bicycles. Steam billows from a 17-foot engine pulling a train full of toys. Robotic elves frantically make holiday cookies to satisfy a hungry oven that keeps popping open.

These holiday scenes are part of a special exhibition at Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore. The museum has devoted a large space on its top floor to the whirring machines, blinking lights and chain reactions of artist Steve Gerberich’s “Holiday Springs & Sprockets.”

Gerberich is a Brooklyn-based artist best known for recycling kitchen gadgets, license plates, plastic flamingos and other oddities and creating quirky sculptures that move. In more than 20 years as an “art mechanic,” Gerberich has turned more than 50 old tea kettles and coffeepots into robotic heads that nod and turn.

He uses simple electricity to begin chain reactions that cause gears, pulleys, sprockets and other mechanics to make things move. No digital chips are involved. “I rescue mechanical devices,” he says. “And then I use my artistic ability to reinvent them.”

He rescued the motors of old sewing machines, for instance, for his reindeer exhibit, which is dark and quiet until someone presses the button that starts the motors that move pedals on old exercise bikes. The movement of those pedals sets in motion wooden floor joists that Gerberich sculpted to resemble reindeer. The result is a group of bike-riding reindeer who seem to be leaping into the air.

Gerberich, 53, learned to rescue old equipment while growing up on a small Iowa farm where something always needed fixing. In his early years as an artist, Gerberich also experimented “by attaching clamps to motors and teaching myself how to make things move.”

But his art is remarkable for more than its mechanics. His exhibits overflow with thousands of old toys, kitchen utensils and other “nostalgic stuff that I inherited” from a family of pack rats. Gerberich’s holiday show at Port Discovery includes thousands of items that grandparents might recognize from their childhoods.

When Aryamon Arora, 11, and her brother Amey, 7, of Savannah, Georgia, visited the museum recently, they wondered where the artist had found so much stuff. “I bet he owned a lot of this, but he probably had to buy some of it, too,” Amey said.

Amey was right. About half of the items in Gerberich’s holiday display come from collections that once belonged to his parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents, but he also found raw materials at tag sales, farm auctions and industrial dumpsters.

Gerberich never knows what treasures he will find. And he’s not sure what they’ll become.

— Rebecca Jones

If you go

What: “Holiday Springs & Sprockets”

Where: Port Discovery Children’s Museum, 35 Market Place, Baltimore

When: Through January 26. Open Tuesday-Friday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

How much: Age 2 and older $13.95,
age 1 and younger free.

For more information: A parent can call 410-727-8120 or visit www.portdiscovery.org.

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