Museum Speelklok—The First Installation in a Series on Automata

I just returned from work placement in Holland's famous mechanical music museum located in central Utrecht. The museum occupies a converted cathedral dating from the middle ages. In 1674 a fierce storm changed the architecture of the church forever, collapsing its single high arch. The outline of the original roof remains in traces on the ancient bricks. Now the high vaulted ceilings house musical curiosities and instruments of grandeur made to marvel any audience.

[caption id="attachment_317" width="614" caption="Organ Detail"]

[caption id="attachment_322" width="640" caption=" Organ by Th. Mortier: photo:"]

The exquisite organ hall booms with music several times a day as the museum guides lead their guests through a maze of musical wonders. To enhance the experience they let visitors try their hand at organ grinding, a process that looks deceptively simple. The motion of turning a large iron wheel drives the entire mechanism--bellows, instruments, sheet music and all--but the tempo of the music relies on the steadiness of organ grinders abilities.[youtube][youtube]As an antiquarian horologist specialising in automata and mechanical music I was thrilled to be intern in their workshop. The world-renowned workshop employs some of the best restorers of clocks and mechanical music in the trade. As one of the few remaining organ building workshops, their master craftsmen have enough work to last a lifetime.

[caption id="attachment_343" width="640" caption="The Scarlet Tanager (left); The French Dome (right)"]

Both projects had their challenges. The French dome was one of the earliest pieces in the collection, number 0152 (The collection now numbers in over 1,100 pieces). It had been in the museum's depot for quite some time; the museum first opened to the public in 1958.

The Scarlet Tanager was a recent donation and had found its way to the workshop during the Treasures of the Forbidden City exhibition. It was used for comparison with one of the pieces from China- an elaborate triple singing bird cage automaton with a near identical mechanism. The bellows had been uncovered in the process of comparison and was still waiting with the mechanism for repair.

To be continued--the conservation of each object will be covered in a subsequent post...