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Creating art with wood, gravity and time

In this What's Up Wednesday we take some time to talk to clockwork sculptor Brendan Reilly at his shop on York Road.

Time and gravity are constant forces in our lives and they are essential elements in the creative works of clockwork artist Brendan Reilly.

“I design and build wooden clockwork sculptures,” said Reilly. “That’s what I call them. They keep good time and they are entirely my own designs. I build them from scratch. I design and make every part.”

It has been a passion of his for many years. 

“When I was a child, clocks were something that definitely interested me,” said Reilly. “I took apart clocks to see how they worked and all that kind of stuff. Then, I read an article in Fine Woodworking Magazine and it described a clock with wooden gears that someone had made.”

The idea intrigued him and in 1979 he came up with a design of his own. 

“I didn’t have a workshop at the time but a friend of mine did and he kindly offered to let me experiment in his shop,” said Reilly. “I designed and built my first clock based on what I learned from the article, my own physics background and my experience taking clocks apart.”

The experiment was a success and he decided to build more.

“I built six of them and had no problem selling them so I set up my own shop and started producing clocks,” he said. “I was quite successful so I continued to do it but I always had other jobs on the side because the income was sporadic.  You only really sell clocks between May and Christmas.” 

Reilly was born in Sarnia in 1951, one of four brothers. He went to University of Waterloo and graduated in 1975 with a BA of science in physics. 

“I’ve done a variety of jobs since I graduated from university and I did most of them concurrently with this,” he said. “I worked in automation for seven years and I worked as a transformer designer.” 

His main part time job was teaching at Conestoga College.

“I have been a teacher of academic upgrading since 1983,” he said. “I’ve taught in Guelph, Waterloo, Doon and Stratford. I retired from steady work in that field three years ago but I still work as a supply teacher there. I enjoy it and it is a nice balance doing this and teaching.”  

He moved to Guelph in 2012 and started looking for a shop.

“I was without a shop for a few years after I moved here,” he said. “I have been at this shop for about four years.”

His shop on York Road is filled with clocks, parts for clocks and other inventions at various stages of creation.  

“I like experimenting with different designs, so I make my clocks in limited editions,” he said. “When I come up with a design I decide how many I am going to make and once I make them that’s it. I move on to a different design. If I had to do the same design over and over I would get bored.” 

It allows him to continually improve on the design and challenge his limitations.

“They are tailored to the customer and some are very large,” he said. “My largest one has one wheel that is three feet in diameter. It has a pendulum that is 10-feet long and rather than being vertical it was horizontal like a teeter totter. There is one at the University of Waterloo that I donated to them in 2000. It’s in the great hall in the Davis Centre.”

He applies his knowledge of modern physics to create the designs but also draws on tradition to keep them ticking.

“They are all mechanically powered,” he said. “They are all weight driven just like a grandfather clock, so they have an absolutely constant pull.”

He takes consignments and sometimes sets up booths at local markets but making money is not what keeps him going

“There was a time when I made a considerable amount of money but it is just nice to have a shop where I can make stuff,” he said. “If I make enough to pay the rent I’m happy.”

To see more of his designs visit www.brendanreilly.ca


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