About George Rhoads
George Rhoads, 1926-2021, was a painter, origami artist, and sculptor best know for his “audiokinetic” ball machine sculptures that are on display in public spaces around the world, as well as in private collections.
George Rhoads was born on January 27th, 1926, as the oldest child of four. His need to know how things work have been a great motivator in his life and career. George began drawing birds and trains at the age of 2 and as he aged he was constantly building or inventing new things. An exhibit of clock escapements at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago first inspired him to take watches apart. (4) When George Rhoads was a little boy, he took clocks apart to see how they worked. By 10, he was making calendar clocks of his own out of wood, pennies, and soldered bits of metal sheeting. (3) He [also] made barometers and a Ferris wheel. (4) As a teen, he took apart watches and clocks and made some of his own. If he lived a century or two ago, the hobby could have become a career.”There’s no way you can be a creative clockmaker in modern times,” he said. “There’s no demand for handmade clocks.” (5)
When George entered school, it was apparent to many of his teachers that he had a quick mind and he could do better in class had he put in more effort. Though he was never a fan of school, he threw himself into subjects that interested him. George was very grateful to the teachers that encouraged his talents. From the age of eight to sixteen, George worked extensively to learn art fundamentals, like still life, figure drawing, sculpting, portrait painting etc. In 1943, at the age of 17, Rhoads studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and then in Paris. In New York City, he worked sporadically at the kinds of free-lance jobs favored by some struggling artists — medical illustration, house painting and furniture moving. Through a gallery and on his own, he sold paintings into the ’60s, most of them expressionistic urban landscapes and trompe l’oeil. Some of these, according to his own records, were purchased by Laurence Tisch and Leonard Bernstein. (2)
Rhoads’ fist solo show was held at the Gallery Huit in Paris and contained mostly watercolor paintings of Paris and surrounding environments. At this exhibit, Rhoads met Origami expert Gershon Legman, who inspired him to start creating folds of his own; most notably, Rhoads created the Blintz Bird Base, which is now a standard for creating an animal with four legs, two ears and a tail out of one piece of paper. After his successes in the Origami community, Rhoads returned to the U.S and to painting, which became increasingly welcomed by art collectors and buyers. Eventually, Rhoads began to feel that he hadn’t learned enough, that he wanted to try new things and enter a different direction than his previous paintings. Through this journey, Rhoads began inventing ideas for games and toys. The first toy he sold was the Cliff Hanger and was sold to the Milton Bradley Company. Shortly after, he began experimenting with metal sculptures that moved and made musical sounds. The earliest ones were operated with hand cranks and turned gears that rang bells. “Homage to Ludwig” for example, was activated by a steel ball that played the first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as it bounced down xylophone keys. Later Rhoads added motor-driven chains with curved prongs that carried balls to the top of the sculptures and released them to the power of gravity. The first ball machines were single-track, hand-powered devices, small enough to sit on the average coffee table in someone’s living room.(3) Around 1958, Rhoads met Hans Van de Bovenkamp, a Dutch-born artist then living in the West Village, who was involved in sculpting fountains. Rhoads began to make his own kinetic fountains, which recycled water through gravity-based systems similar to those he has since used with rolling balls.
After appearing on The David Frost Show in 1972, Rhoads was inundated with commissions for his ball machines. To gain more space, he moved to Dundee, NY, where he met Robert McGuire. Rhoads hired McGuire to help construct his sculptures, and so began a working relationship that lasted over thirty years. In 1981, Rhoads was commissioned to build a sculpture named 42nd Street Ballroom for the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, which ushered in a period of production for larger, monumental ball machine sculptures. Rhoads’ sculptures can range in size from small wall-mounted pieces to machines that fill entire rooms and span multiple stories. His work has been installed in public spaces and private collections around the world including large pieces in Japan, Guam, Australia, Spain, Israel, Mexico, Chile and Taiwan. Nearly all of his sculptures are still in operation today, and have been noted for their popularity with the public. In particular, the way his work is able to capture the attention and adoration of all ages. From 1989-2007 George Rhoads partnered with Robert McGuire to create his sculptures at Rockstream Studios in Ithaca, NY. In 2007, Creative Machines(located in Tucson, AZ) took over the creation of Rhoads’ sculptures, and continues the tradition of Rhoads’ artwork today. Creative Machines continues to use the techniques developed by George Rhoads in their ball machine sculptures, incorporating fabrication methods, design elements, and strategies for making reliable, long lasting sculptures.