...Grasshopper Clockwork
...Inertia Clockwork
.........Gear Cutting
.........Sample Gears
.........Rotary Table
.........Parts Disassembled
.........Escapement Revealed
...Simplicity Clockwork
...Gear Machine Clockwork
...Concentricity Clockwork
...Egg Drawing Machine
...Brown Eggs
...Green Eggs
...Fun With Trigonometry
...The Milling Machine
...Inside the Controller Case
...Rear of Controller Case
...The Interface Board
-ProTrac App Support

A passion for precision

Engineer produces art like clockwork


By Lucinda Breeding / Staff Writer
Denton Record Chronicle

The light-toned wood is soft and glossy, inviting you to touch it. A sweeping intersection of lines looks like the letter "K" turned on its side. Just below the form is a circle, looking like a sun, turning steadily clockwise. Two dark walnut arms bob, clicking and ticking the flame-like edges of the circle, turning it. Two weights, one shaped like an egg, droop toward the floor of the Meadows Gallery, hanging on a string — is it leather? — that seems to work like a bicycle chain.

DRC/Hiroyuki Komae
Ed Legler's "Grasshopper Clockwork" won this year's Best of Show during the "On My Own Time" art show reception at the Center for the Visual Arts Monday.

It ticks.

The piece, called "Grasshopper Clockwork" was declared best of show in "On My Own Time," the annual Greater Denton Arts Council exhibit of local nonprofessional art.

It took technical engineer Ed Legler eight to 10 months to conceive the piece through sketches and equations.

Mr. Legler has been an engineer for Peterbilt for nine years, but his fascination with clocks and clockworks reaches back further than that. He’s read extensively about woodwork, and he still recalls a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf to see artist David Roy’s kinetic sculpture. David Roy is clearly an influence for the Peterbilt engineer.

He began studying clockworks well before he made "Simplicity Clockwork" for "On My Own Time" last year.

"I knew I wanted to make another clockwork," Mr. Legler said.

His interest led him to the Dava Sobel’s book "Longitude," the story of John Harrison.

"John Harrison takes credit for inventing the first grasshopper escapement in England in 1722. After reading that, I found ‘My Own Right Time’ by Philip Woodward. He had an explanation of a grasshopper escapement. I knew I had to build one."

A grasshopper escapement uses two arm-like levers to bump a dial inside the clock. The levers look like grasshopper legs, and produce the ticking sound you hear in clocks. The grasshopper escapement was the precursor to the spring or coil that powers more modern clocks.

"John Harrison has a grasshopper escapement that is still running in a turret clock in England," Mr. Legler said.

"Grasshopper Clockwork" will run for 50 minutes. It is powered by its weights and pulleys. The piece combines science with the aesthetic. Mr. Legler first explored his artistic side while he was in college. He took some woodshop classes at the local college, and made furniture and boxes. He liked wood, he said because it’s easy to work with, and has a "nice natural feel."

"Grasshopper Clockwork" is made mostly of birch plywood. Mr. Legler chose birch because it’s a stable wood that won’t warp with humidity changes. The "grasshopper arms" are dark walnut. The wood is rubbed with tung oil for preservation, and then waxed for shine.

"This year, I used a lot more brass. I’ve always liked the look of brass on wood. I think the combination of mostly light woods gives what I would consider a Danish look. I’ve used a lot of light, simple wood."

It’s easy to see why "Grasshopper Clockwork" appealed to juror Carol Alexander. In form, the piece feels timeless, even modern. In function, the piece reaches back to days when mathematicians worked to solve the problem of measuring time. "Grasshopper Clockwork" is very much in the present with the tick-tocking of the levers just fast enough to show the viewer the relentless drive of time, but it’s slow enough to be hypnotic, both aurally and visually.

"I’m more interested in the mechanism itself," he said. "I don’t have any plans to make one that actually tells time."

He didn’t expect to win the show.

"Well, it surprised me, but it was a nice validation of something that was inventive, interesting and top quality. I thought it was interesting that something unconventional that was in there along with photography and sculpture would take top honors."

Wooden Geared Clockworks