Tick Bird visits the Museum

william the hippo automaton

William the hippopotamus is one of the most popular residents of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
He is an Egyptian figurine dating from the1800’s BC.
The original is ceramic, this automaton is carved from lime wood and painted with gesso and acrylics.
Naturally, any tick bird visiting a museum would head for the hippopotamus!

The blue and green ripples on the large gear wheel evoke the lagoons that the hippos live in and the orange cam wheel the African sun.

The frame is made from birch plywood and beech. .
All the fittings are turned from brass and nylon to give extra smooth running and an internal gear is used to keep the base compact.
This highly decorative automaton is very smooth running.
Height 22cms, (8.5 inches)
Length 12 cms (4.5 inches)
Width 7.5 cms (3 inches)

Automaton of William the Hippo
Wooden automaton of William the Hippo

All parts are finished to a high standard with several coats of acrylic lacquer. The boxwood crank handle is finished with beeswax.
The bird is not permanently attached to the hippo but sits on a spigot on a gimbal bearing to enable it to swivel round.

Automaton parts hippo

The hippos are carved from lime wood in 2 halves to allow fitting of the mechanism. To ensure accuracy the model has been digitalised and a blank is cut with a computer controlled cutter to ensure consistency before the hippo is hand carved to finish.

automata hippos being painted

The hippos have a base paint and a sprayed top coat of a lighter shade to give depth. The patterns are hand painted.

automaton birds parts

The bird parts have also been digitalised and are computer cut before being hand finished. Bras weights and a small brass gimbal are specially hand turned.

automaton brass parts

The small brass gimbals inside the birds being turned on the Shireline lathe. They are marked to length and then move to the drill.

automaton making plywood

The gears are made from home made beech ply. This has 3 layers of thin beech wood glued together to produce tough and decorative gears. Here a strip of ply is seen being clamped together between wooden blocks after gluing.

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The crank mechanism is constructed from 10 separate parts. It has a brass axle and a nylon bush. The nylon axle bush shown here replaces the brass bush that I used on earlier examples as brass running on brass can begin to squeak unless lubricated. The boxwood crank handle has a teflon washer. I continue to make small functional updates to the design where appropriate.

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The axles and bushings turned on the lathe before fitting into the gear wheel.

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The hippo is painted with artist's gesso to give a smooth hard finish before painting.

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Showing the brass spigot that the bird sits on and the hand painted pattern.

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Finished bird showing gimbal that allows free movement of the bird both up and down and rotationally.

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Showing the gimbals held in a home made clamp for drilling.

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On the left is the finished gimbal and it is also shown placed inside the bird. It can rotate to allow movement of the bird and the spigot holding the bird can also move up and down within the gimbal.

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Brass parts are all specially made. The beech ply can be seen in the front gear.

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The cam follower is made from 9 separate parts. Again all the wood is tough beech wood. The counter weight is turned from brass.

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Showing the brass axle and bushing in place.

© Philip Lowndes
Long View
Church Green
Nr Saffron Walden Essex
CB10 1RA

Tel. +44 (0)7531 660021