Art always tells us something about the times in which it was created. Take Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans for example, which caricature the effects of mass consumer taste on art. Or sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, which shows two human figures carved in marble in a breathtaking display of movement and form so typical of the high baroque period. The materials they used, the techniques the employed, and the patronage of their art all tell us something about the times during which these artists worked.
The Computer History Museum has some very unique sculptures in its permanent collection and they too tell us a lot about the times of their creators, in this case the early mainframe computer era. These sculptures, known as the “Honeywell Animals,” are part of a collection of over 100 animal sculptures commissioned by computer maker Honeywell as part of a long-term advertising campaign. Honeywell’s campaign lasted from 1964 to 1978 and each ad featured a sculpture with a clever tag line that promoted Honeywell computers.
The first sculpture was a simple pterodactyl-appearing bird escaping from a cage. The headline proclaimed: “You’re free. Honeywell’s ‘Liberator’ lets you switch to the H-200 without re-programming.” In this case, Honeywell was promoting its H-200 mainframe computer running ‘Liberator’ software—which let it run IBM mainframe software—Honeywell’s main competitor—without modification, a huge selling point. Other animals included a bull, a fish, frogs, a horse, a kangaroo, a cat, an owl, a puppy, a tiger and a roadrunner among many others. Most of the animals were either sculpted from Styrofoam or formed with a wire mesh, with components added to form the mosaic pattern of the animal.
In keeping with the times, these sculptures, made by half a dozen sculptors in the Boston area, are each unique and were made using electronic components of the time. If you have electronics experience, you will smile at the clever ways in which common components like capacitors, resistors, diodes, and transistors are arranged and formed into animal parts.
Once the ad campaign was over, Honeywell gave away the sculptures to employees and important customers. Fortunately, Morris Dettman, the Honeywell visionary who sponsored the campaign, arranged for a few of these sculptures to come to the Museum. CHM now has a bison, a grasshopper, a fox and a variety of chess pieces in its collection.
The whereabouts of the remaining Honeywell animals is unknown. CHM is actively seeking these items so if you’ve seen or heard of one, please do let us know.
Learn more about the Honeywell Animal advertisement campaign.
UPDATE March 14, 2014: We are delighted to report that CHM has acquired another Honeywell animal! It is of a rabbit and was made by Ralph Moxcey, creator of the Honeywell animal scultpure concept while at BBDO and now a sculptor in Maine. Ralph told us about his friend, Dick Pantano, who had the rabbit safely stored in his house… for fifty years! The rabbit joins its other friends in CHM’s permanent collection.