Dating back to prehistoric times, people have been losing their marbles, and some people are just plain fascinated by moving objects. Even though round stones and small clay balls have been found in caves, it wasn’t until the 19th century that man created a marble machine.
In 1890, the Germans invented the first marble machine. Later, the U.S. discovered a process that created a “crackle” effect by allowing marbles to bake prior to them cooling. And others figured out how to infuse colored glass into marbles to create a cat’s eye.
But what should one do with a marble? Many collect or play marble games. However, few people ever decide to build a kinetic art sculpture with marbles and wire.
Nobody knows how the first rolling ball track came into existence. However, many people believe someone put a marble on a piece of wood, tilted the wood and watched the marble roll down. The dawn of marble imagination had sprung, but how to make the marble move down a track and onto another became increasing challenging. And so the birth of the rolling ball sculpture began.
Troy Errthum of Pleasant Hill created a kinetic art sculpture he calls “The Marble Contraption.” This cascading marble art piece consists of 20 1-3/8” glass marbles, one 1-1/16” steel pinball, six paths of travel with four switches, and almost 100 feet of track.
“It took almost six months to build, and less than $200 to make,” Errthum says.
Errthum played with his kids’ marble runs more than they would, and for two years he had been planning his own marble run. And then one winter day, “I saw a kid with a steel sled,” says Errthum. “That was the key to starting ‘The Contraption.’ ” A sled is the base of his sculpture.
Errthum spent many nights welding the wire track.
“I inherited the welder when my dad died; there is nothing better than remembering your dad and molten metal,” he says.
The Marble Contraption consists of many parts: a funnel, wind chimes, quarter pipe skate jump, Newton’s cradle, bicycle chain lift, tornado spiral and a cat’s eye marble.
“My favorite part is the hula girl; she dances when the marble passes,” Errthum says.
The Marble Contraption has been transported to family reunions, a hotel lobby and an art show.
“In the future, I may use it for charity work,” he says.
Errthum has made the ultimate marble run with twists, turns and jumps creating movement as the marbles cascade down. To view ‘The Marble Contraption’ online, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TJq1Jh38xY.