Another How-To from

Sticks, wires & buttons: earthquake detector

Making it.
Ingredients: Sticks from my yard, small black buttons of various types and sizes (from my wife's button box)--not shown below, and 22-gauge annealed (oiled) steel wire--wire that will eventually rust.
Tools: Needle-nosed pliers (for cutting and pulling the wire) and two hands. That's it.
Steps one and two. Select a bunch of sticks. Break to size.
Steps three and four. Get wire and pliers. Cut overly-long pieces of wire. Wrap wire around the ends and/or middles of the sticks--twisting to secure it. I repeated this until I had about twenty sticks with two or three wires securely wrapped around each one.

Step five. Attach sticks to each other using the loose wires. Even after wiring several sticks together, I still had a lot of leeway to twist and bend the wire and alter the orientation of the sticks--experimenting with different arrangements. I was just going for an abstract lumpy, airy clump of sticks, so this was pretty main worry and aesthetic concern seemed to be making sure that the sticks weren't "too close together" or "too far apart" as I added more sticks.
Step six. Attach small black buttons to the ends of the loose wires. You might want to do this with something else or just leave them unadorned. Finally I arranged the loose wires to make them look "randomly" dispersed. You might want to trim all the wires off (although this will pretty much neuter it as an earthquake detector).

Getting here.

I started making "wire sculptures" more than a year ago when I created a series of frost catchers. I started wrapping wire around sticks while helping Janice with one of her projects last fall--creating large stick wall panels. I had also made a couple of other small wire and stick sculptures since then. While working on my first wire and terra cotta object, clay pot, I decided to make my sister Cheryl something for her 63rd birthday--something that I could throw together fairly quickly. I was already working with wire and had a lot of sticks around so I decided I would just start off making an abstract jumble of short sticks and see where that led me.

As I had with the clay pot, I decided not to clip the wires and see how they looked hanging off the object. Liked how it looked. I also started thinking about wrapping the ends of the free wires around something (e.g., another stick? a broken piece of pottery?). I realized that buttons would work--I'd liked using them in some of my wire frost catchers--so I asked my wife Janice to dig out her button box. Considered different colors and decided to just use all black buttons. Almost didn't have enough. Janice thought the buttons looked like a swarm of bees around a hive.

The idea of this being an earthquake detector idea comes at the end of the project. While wiring buttons to the ends of the wires I 1. noticed how easily these wires vibrated and bounced, and 2. realized that different lengths of wire would respond differently to external vibrations (e.g., a long wire would be more likely to be "in tune" with a slow/longer vibration and a short wire should be more likely to respond to a faster/shorter vibration. Voila: The idea that this object could be an earthquake detector! I have no idea whether any of these wires could provide any early warning for earthquakes by detecting the long slow vibrations that may precede an earthquake, but in theory I would think something like this could be arranged. My left brain wants to go off and do research on this, find out the vibration range of earthquakes, and then construct "a serious object" that would actually be in tune with this range of vibrations. Regardless of whether or not this object has any "early warning" capabilities, I am sure it will shake a lot in a noticeable earthquake. It jiggles on a table when someone walks across the floor.

Finally, I decided to give this object a "name." I decided to call it "Valerie & John" in honor of two good, longtime friends of my sister's--one of them is like wood and the other is like buttons.

This project was part of a creative surge that involved making a hanging panel, a clay pot, this earthquake detector, and a stone pot over a two-week period of spring from April 20 - May 5, 2008.

© 2008