“I’m in a bird phase,” says Ann Smith of Providence,
R.I. The birds in question evoke playfulness and
scientific savvy with a meticulous arrangement of
mechanical and electronic castoffs, including keyboard mylar and tiny gears from watches.
These fanciful avian miniatures are just the latest
creations in her growing mechanical menagerie. Past
enthusiasms include bugs, goats, cats, antelopes,
frogs, squid, jellyfish, dinos, and more.
Photography by Ann Smith
Smith’s first robot-like figurine was a horse she
made for an illustration assignment at the Rhode
Island School of Design. She explains: “The topic
of the project was technology and my idea was to
make some sort of a Trojan horse of technology:
technology being something people invite into their
homes that eventually spreads and takes over.”
Both natural and mechanical forms continue to
inspire Smith’s work, and the sources of her material are as diverse as the creatures themselves:
sewing machines, clocks, computers, keyboards,
phones, cameras, printers, typewriters, and other
She starts her sculptures by focusing on the
structural form of an animal, and then builds onto
it, adding texture and detail. “A piece only feels
complete when it’s acquired a sense of life and
personality,” she says.
The distinctive personalities of her robotic figures
have been used as illustrations for advertising and
featured in prestigious magazines such as Wired
and Architectural Digest (Germany). Her work is
also in demand in shops and galleries nationwide.
But her new passion is breathing life into her
creations through stop-motion animation. “They
have always been alive and running around in my
mind, and it is wonderful to see them actually
come to life,” she exudes. “Eventually I’d like to
start adding narration and sound to the pieces.”
In the meantime, her miniature zoo expands with
more colorful and delicate birds. And, her imagination ever alert to possibility, a 3½-foot-long whale.
>> Ann Smith’s Sculptures: