To begin this new project, I wanted to share with you a video of a creation that I personally return to again and again. In this clip, we see a static, silver swan that, after a careful winding, comes “alive” through a sophisticated clockwork system. It’s transfixing, it’s peculiar, and, without a doubt, it invites a lot of questions.
Created in London in 1772, this automaton represents an 18th century fascination with the mechanical and, perhaps, a broader yearning to capture (and possess) an elusive piece of the natural world. Though eventually purchased by an elite collector, this swan was seen by thousands when it was shown at the Paris International Exhibition of 1867—an event that attracted millions from all walks of life. Today, the Swan resides at The Bowes Museum in the UK, where visitors can (typically) watch it come to life everyday at 2 p.m.
Part sculpture, part performance—it’s no wonder this 200+ year old automaton continues to captivate audiences. When I repeatedly watch this astounding (albeit, somewhat bizarre) recording, I often ask myself, “I wonder—will I ever see the swan wound up in person?” Who knows! But for now, the video invites me to reflect on a larger desire to make permanent that which is beautiful and fleeting. It also inspires me to acknowledge that through technological ingenuity, supreme craftsmanship, and limitless imagination, people the world over have made it possible to have memorable, shared experiences that span time and space.
And so, it is my hope that since you’ve now joined me (and the millions of other viewers) that have watched this swan awake, that you’ll look forward to engaging with us further at the Norton Center as we continue to celebrate the arts and their impact on our collective human story.
Molly Baker is a graduate of Berea College, where she studied Art History and Asian Studies. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Art History from the University of Kentucky. Before joining the Norton Center for the Arts, Molly held the position of Gallery Manager at TAMARACK: The Best of West Virginia. Later, she served as Assistant Curator/Gallery Manager at the Doris Ulmann Galleries (Berea College) as a sabbatical replacement. Molly is especially dedicated to the study and promotion of the arts and arts-based experiences using creative methods. Specifically, her goal is to bridge arts presentations with inclusive opportunities to learn about context, creators, and cultural significance, pointing to our combined human experiences in order to encourage critical thinking and understanding.