Summer 2001

The Artist Makes Himself a Peanut Butter Sandwich

Rube Goldberg’s slapstick machinery

Ian Berry

Rube Goldberg’s work displays a fascination with machines, inventions, and other slapstick schemes. Goldberg, whose name is officially an adjective, is best-known for his madcap, cartoon contraptions born out of a personal engagement with engineering structures and vaudeville comedy. To be Rube Goldbergian is to revel in the long way around a simple task. A Rube Goldberg-like solution expends all but an ounce of its energy along a fragile but plausible series of interconnected events, and just when we suspect that the artist has succumbed to the pure joy of invention, the solution is revealed.

Rueben Lucius Goldberg (1883–1970) was an eccentric figure whose early training as a draftsman and engineer can be seen in his many cartoon series that appeared in newspapers across the country from 1904 through the early 1960s. His cartoons were first published by the San Francisco Chronicle and later in the New York Evening Mail and the New York Journal, among many other periodicals. Goldberg’s work brought him fame and fortune, and led to experiments with animation and writing for Hollywood films. The Goldberg drawings seen here include rarely seen preparatory pencil sketches and typewritten texts from “The Inventions of Professor Butts” series, which began in 1914.

Photographs by Arthur Evans.

The works are reproduced courtesy of the Williams College Museum of Art and Rube Goldberg Inc. Rube Goldberg is a registered trademark of Rube Goldberg Inc.

The drawings in this issue are from the collection of the Williams College Museum of Art. They are featured alongside the work of thirteen emerging artists in the exhibition “CHAIN REACTION: Rube Goldberg and Contemporary Art,” which debuts at the Williams College Museum of Art (22 July–23 December 2001) and travels to the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College (26 January–2 June 2002).

Ian Berry is the curator of the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in the United States.

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