Artists and Inventors Inspired by Rube Goldberg - Smithsonian exhibit


It has been mentioned in the Highlights section that a Smithsonian exhibit was held in honor of Rube Goldberg. There are still exhibits that are held in honor of the cartoonist-engineer or as some would have it, the artist-inventor.

Creative Contraptions

Putting Rube Goldberg right into the twenty-first century, an exhibit called Creative Contraptions was held in 2005 at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. This exhibit not only featured the works of Rube Goldberg but also of four Connecticut artists who had been inspired by the cartoonist-engineer’s works.

I - Margaret Roleke

Redding’s Margaret Roleke opted to go for an “Action/Reaction Prototype”. In this project, she built a contraption that is made of Plexiglas, steel and a water pump operated by using the feet. The transparent box machine does not really do anything helpful, in accordance to Goldberg’s rules. However, visitors can still get something fun out of the contraption, enjoying the “splash and bang”. Roleke confessed that she was going for a more controlled version of the Rube Goldberg machine, combined with “easy maintenance.”

II - Ellen Hackl Fagan

Meanwhile, Ellen Hackl Fagan, an artist from Greenwich presented “Embracing Chaos – The Reverse Color Organ.” Her setup made use of all sorts of typical artist materials and media such as acrylic, clay board panels, copper dust, enamel, gel medium, glitter, gloss, graphite, latex and plastic caps as well as fossils, nails, oil and push pins. Sound is created or rather triggered when a video sensor was made to pass over the work of art. A New York City collaborator by the name of Konrad Kaczmarek said that the computer hardware plus the software that were used in the setup were the ones that read the lightness and hue saturation. They triggered 28 distinct, as well as 53 mixed sounds. These pre-recorded sounds were the combinations of all sorts of music from original and indigenous to popular and newly-discovered music.

Similar Artists

There are also other artists that were not part of Creative Contraptions or any other exhibit that was directly associated with Rube Goldberg who still managed to display the style of the cartoonist. It can be argued that these artists were not inspired by Rube Goldberg but followed their own version of the same style at about the same time. However, it was still interesting to see artists that create Rube Goldberg-like machines, inventions and other forms of art.

I - Jean Tinguely

Jean Tinguely was a painter and sculptor from Fribourg Switzerland. He was born on May 22, 1925. His specialty was sculptural machines. He worked within the Dada tradition in producing what is called kinetic art. His art commented on the overabundance of material goods. In this way, he was similar to Rube Goldberg in making social commentaries based on the community’s current condition. Like Goldberg, he was part of a group of artists who flourished during an important point in history. He belonged to a group of artists who were able to sign the manifesto of the New Realist movement in 1960.

Tinguely was also a unique artist. While Goldberg focused on creating art that elaborated simple tasks, Tinguely was working with self-destroying sculpture. He was best known for Homage to New York, done in 1960, which was such a sculpture. In 1962, another work of art detonated as planned in front of viewers in a Las Vegas desert. The name of the piece was Study for an End of the World No. 2.

II - Robert Storm Petersen

Robert Storm Petersen was an artist of several media: an animator, cartoonist, humorist, illustrator, painter and writer. He was from Denmark and used Storm P. as his pen name. He was pretty diverse in his undertakings much like Rube Goldberg. He came from a lower middle class family but people of his time thought that he was not very much concerned about the society as he was expected to be. Several of his paintings did tackle death but remained optimistic.

What made him comparable to Rube Goldberg were his Storm P machines. These are drawings that showed machines that are able to perform simple tasks by way of complicated and extensive number of steps.

III – W. Heath Robinson

Of course, there is W. Heath Robinson from the UK who had started working with strange and complicated machines before Goldberg. Heath Robinson is the UK counterpart of Rube Goldberg as was mentioned earlier in the Early Career (Name Game) section.


Even decades after Rube Goldberg’s death, artists and inventors were and are still excited about the possibilities that modern technology and equipment can add to the Rube Goldberg machine legacy. Because of this, exhibits that are held in his honor still happened and may still happen in the twentieth century. It is good to see young artists and inventors continue the works of the revered cartoonist. There may be other artists with similar styles but Rube Goldberg is still the most famous artist of his kind in the United States. In the UK, however, he was predated by W. Heath Robinson (1872 – 1944), who also designed eccentric, overcomplicated machines. Continue to next page.

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