By Eric Lundin, Contributing Editor
Most works of art, whether painted, drawn, sculpted, or assembled, are motionless. Metal artist Ed Kidera makes stationary
items from time to time, but most of his works are
dynamic in some way.
“Most of my work does something,” he said.
He didn’t start his career with art in mind. His
background includes a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and in addition to his career
as an equipment designer, he spent some time
teaching diving classes. When he was teaching, he
found that he could get a distracted student’s attention with a sharp rap against a scuba tank.
Scuba tanks don’t last forever, so Kidera wondered if he could put a decommissioned tank to
good use. He took one home, cut it in half, and fashioned a bell out of it. It wasn’t long before he had
worked up a decorative motif, installed a clapper,
and hung it from a frame he made from some tubing
(see Figure 1). Since then he has produced nearly
6,000 such bells, each one numbered and signed.
Kidera was surprised and pleased to find that
tanks for other uses are available in an astounding
variety of shapes and sizes. Some specialty medical
gases come in tanks not much larger than a quart-sized soda bottle. Scuba, propane, and common fire
extinguishers fill out the middle of the size range.
Among the biggest tanks Kidera found is a halon fire
extinguisher, typically used in a computer room or
other area with electronic gear that can’t tolerate
exposure to water. Intended to be stationary, the
tank is too big to swing like one of Kidera’s typical
bells, but he made a bell from one anyway. He also
made a mallet so the owner can strike it like a gong.
He put a bit of his engineering background to use
in his second career. Employed at the Johns Hopkins University—Applied Physics Laboratory in the
1970s and ’80s, he designed motion compensation
systems for towed sensors for ocean research. An
ocean’s characteristics don’t always change gradually as the depth changes, Kidera explained. Thermoclines, haloclines, and pycnoclines are thin layers of relatively abrupt changes in temperature,
salinity, and density, respectively. The normal
heave of a ship in heavy seas would cause a towed
sensor to change depth rapidly, occasionally moving through a cline, disrupting the sensor’s data
collection process, and in some cases rendering
the data useless. Kidera designed and built electromechanical systems that compensate for the ship’s
motion so that a peak-to-trough heave of 20 feet
would change the sensor’s depth just a few inches.
Kidera doesn’t build anything that sophisticated
for his bells, but he used some of the same principles
when he developed a series of bells that rock rather
than swing, which he calls rocker bells. Each bell is
counterbalanced so that, once put into motion, it
rocks and rocks and rocks as though it will never run
out of steam, like a well-designed pendulum.
“On a pendulum, the longer the arm, the longer
the period,” Kidera said, explaining how to design
one for the longest duration of back-and-forth motion. His rocker bells use the same principles—
gravity and inertia—but the pivot point is between two
nearly equal masses.
“Anyone can make one with a short period,” he
said. “To make the period as long as possible, you
have to locate the pivot point as close as possible to
the center of gravity.” This is easier said than done,
and when it is done, the bell still might need some
adjustment. If the masses aren’t aligned with each
other vertically, the bell doesn’t hang vertically when
at rest. Getting it just right can be a tedious process
requiring several adjustments, heating the counterbalance with a torch and tapping it with a hammer.
Artistic Amplifiers and More
Kidera’s work is much more than bells. In keeping
with the idea that his creations should have a function, he often guts old radios, updates them with
an off-the-shelf audio amplifier, and adds a horn
to channel the sound (see Figure 2). After that it’s a
matter of connecting an iPod® or anything else with
a 1⁄8-in. headphone jack, and voila! It plays music.
Read more from Eric Lundin at www.thefabricator.com/author/eric-lundin
Art in motion
creates functional artwork
THE BACK PAGE
Some of his pieces don’t have a function, but look
like they do. The steampunk movement, a combination of science fiction and art that embraces
steam-powered machinery, caught Kidera’s attention years ago and it shows up in many of his pieces. Influenced by the writings of H.G. Wells, Jules
Verne, and other 19th-century science fiction writers, steampunk pieces often depict technologies
envisioned more than 100 years ago, but even now
aren’t technologically or economically viable (see
So the next time you see art in motion and it looks
a lot like a reused fire extinguisher, or you see something that implies motion like a levitating skateboard, look closely. If it has the initials EK on it, it’s
one of Ed Kidera’s pieces.
Ed Kidera, 3591 Hipsley Mill Road, Woodbine, MD
21797, 410-489-0431, email@example.com, www.
Figure 1 Welder and sculptor Ed Kidera has made more
than 7,000 pieces during his 25-year career as a metal
artist. The bulk of his work is a series of bells made from
tanks of all sorts and sizes.
Figure 2 Artist Ed Kidera often uses cast-off, discarded
items in the pieces he makes, many of which actually do
something. In addition to playing music, this iPod amplifier is a great conversation starter with its pressure gauge,
copper pipe, and visually pleasing plasma display.
Figure 3 Embracing the steampunk movement, welding artist Ed Kidera created a futuristic retro dirigible.
The basis of the airship is familiar territory, a discarded
tank. Other steampunk-inspired Kidera creations can be
viewed at http://thesteamemporium.com.
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