Earth, Wind, Inspire
Gary Bates grew up plowing the fields of his grandfather’s farm in tiny Manhattan, Mont., where he
now lives. Making passes on the tractor each day
bored the young Bates, but he did enjoy lying on the
grass and watching the windmills. And it was there
that he found the inspiration for his kinetic sculptures.
In his early 20s, Bates began building large, wind-powered structures from recycled farm machinery.
He placed these sculptures on the edge of the field
so he could watch them while he drove the tractor,
sometimes looking at them from a mile away.
Photography by Jens J. Selvig III
Today, a telescope points from Bates’ living room
to his 1986 sculpture Lunar Ketcherschmitt, a
14-foot-high piece marking the edge of his property.
Ketcherschmitt is made of an old steel boiler cut
in two, with one 2,300-pound half spinning atop
the other. Engineers from Stanford University have
visited to study how the wind can start the heavy
top half spinning, but they remain baffled. Bates
doesn’t necessarily understand it either. “I don’t
know why it works,” he admits, “but I’m happy that
Like many of Bates’ sculptures, Ketcherschmitt
makes visible the pulse of the environment. Each
one reacts to some natural force — in this case,
wind — and transmits the information in a visual
way. Bates peers through the lens to Ketcherschmitt
each morning to see what the weather might be
like. Similarly, an engineering professor at Montana
State University watches the spin of Bates’ Wind
Arc from his office window to determine whether
it’s too blustery to ride his bike home.
Bates’ next public work, Rain Scale, will be
installed this year at Green River Community College
in Auburn, Wash. Bates will perch an 18-foot-wide
horizontal ring of stainless steel atop a 25-foot-high
arch. Three-eighths of an inch of rain, or 29 pounds
of water, will set the 2,000-pound ring into seesawing motion for almost an hour, depositing water
into the pond below. It’s sure to be a glorious sight —
just remember to bring your umbrella.
>> Monumental Kinetic Sculpture: sculptorgarybates.com