Editor’s note: We are excited to bring you Erich Griebling’s sculptures, made almost exclusively from typewriter parts. I first saw these sculptures when I was young, living on Plum Island. His use of items from the shoreline – some organic, some man made – resonated with me as a junior beachcomber. We invite you to enjoy the intricacy of his art: both visual and symbolical, as well as his essay about the typewriter.
Homage to the Typewriter
Underwood, L.C. Smith, Royal, Remington — these were the names of the real authors of the information age. They made it possible to produce a unique printed page (and one that was legible) at the rate of sixty and more original words per minute. This was a feat unparalleled in human history and resulted in a leap in civilized communication, documentation and creativity. Imagine the debt of gratitude owed to these firms by our vast bureaucracies.
The pieces in this collection were generated almost entirely from typewriter keys and parts. Even the small “birds” are part of the mechanism of one manufacturer.
With the passing of the typewriter also gone are thousands of miles of black and red ink typewriter ribbon. Piles of eraser dust remain in nearly all machines as testament to many a typo. On all surfaces there is an encrustation of a tenacious, greasy dirt — the remains of our recent history, certainly of twentieth century literature, and perhaps even vestiges of the 1918 flu epidemic.
Typewriters were produced by the millions between the turn of the century until recently. To those of us who grew up with them, typewriters were as much a permanent part of life as the refrigerator or the family car. Just yesterday typewriters were everywhere, it seemed, but now they are rare. Where did they all go? Andy Rooney used to have an old one visible behind him as he sat on “Sixty Minutes” editorializing and being cynical about modern life. Flea markets are a source. And antique stores — under a counter, maybe squirreled away in a corner.
These now-archaic, anachronistic machines are very much small-scale monuments to the industrial age. The demise of the typewriter may have signaled the end of that era. Certainly this is the case if one uses the value of an old typewriter as a gauge. They are worth almost nothing now, even in perfect working order. Such machines, if produced today, would cost thousands of dollars because they consist of so many hundreds of uniquely shaped, interconnected, moving parts.
A typical typewriter has about 50 keys, each a unique shape or length, connected through an ingenious linkage to a striking part which produces an image on paper. In addition, there are hundreds of other parts, sub-assemblies, clever mechanisms, mostly held together with screws set into threaded holes. Each manufacturer designed and built typewriters slightly differently; multitudes of patents printed on the machines attest to creative protection and subtle differences.
One can imagine that the fine machine technology and engineered tolerances were developed by Remington for the design and manufacture of handguns and rifles. Perhaps the typewriter is one of the first examples of beating industrial age swords into plowshares.
Most of a typewriter’s mechanism is constructed of stamped, painted steel. All of the parts used in the sculpture are held together with soldered joints. Soldering requires cleaning of the parts to bare metal with a rotary wire brush. A propane torch is used for soldering joints and various heat-sink techniques must be employed where soldered joints are close together.
Aesthetically, an attempt is made to re-use original parts with as little change as possible, with the exception of bending and shaping, which is, after all, what we do with language.
Erich Griebling is an architect by trade. He has been creating sculptures for many years, while living by the shore on Plum Island, MA where his rambunctious Golden Retriever, Mousse, is a local celebrity. See more of Erich’s typewriter art on his P.I. Architect site.