26 March 2011

James Watt's Workshop

When asked who the most influential British inventor ever was a lot of people will answer with a single name – James Watt.  After all, his steam condenser did, effectively, kick start the Industrial Revolution. When he died in 1819 his workshop near Birmingham (the one in the United Kingdom) was preserved and this legendary magical retreat became a magnet for pilgrims.

However, the house in which his attic study was situated became due for demolition ninety years ago.  Fortunately the Science Museum stepped in and bought the workshop in its entirety – over 8,000 pieces.  Now they have restored it and it has taken pride of place in the museum. It is hoped that a new generation of inventors will be inspired by his visions – of a machine that could copy sculptures and another that could copy letters as well as by the sheer ambience of his workplace.

The exhibition, Head Room, opened on March 23 (more details here) but you may not, however, be able to get to London any time soon.  So, the Science Museum has enlisted the help of animator and artist Leo Bridle. Bridle was asked to take in the vast amount of artifacts left behind by Watt and to give an artist’s reaction to this amazing collection.  This glorious animation is what he made of the 8430 objects that make up the new exhibition.  Although you can see it in situ, the Science Museum has kindly released it on to the interweb so that those who cannot be there can enjoy the artist’s response to the inventor’s retreat.