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Dan Bentley

At 13” tall and 15” wide, “Helix” is composed of a 1940s Revere 8mm movie projector and a Kodak Brownie Starmatic. The Revere Model 85 was designed in 1939 by Philmore F. Sperry. The Starmatic, manufactured from 1959 to 1961, was designed by Arthur H. Crapsey, one of Eastman Kodak's first industrial designers. Photo by Lauren Bentley, Dan's daughter.Science fiction fans have long pondered the question: how human can a robot be?

Dan's machine-man sculptures don't walk, talk, laugh or cry. But they sure can turn on the charm.

Leave it to a veteran product designer to dissect obsolete consumer appliances and put them together into an endearing collection of robots. And the curious Dr. FrankenDan started young.

“My parents came to accept that I would disassemble my toys to see how they worked,” he says. “And reassemble them.”

This Rochester guy has been designing real products professionally for 35 years—from industrial mixers to vacuum cleaners to surgical tools. That experience informs his collection of robot sculpture, pieced together from scraps of vintage gadgets.

Here, Dan's hand rests on the shoulder of “Hercules,” aptly named for the Hercules Damper Control made in the 1940s, which now serves as his torso. The robot's arms and feet: Black & Decker drills, also from 1940s. His legs: Kromex spice jars from the late 1950s. And his noggin: a 1930s Telechron alarm clock. Photo by Michael Demme. “I grew up during the 1960s when kids still had wood and metal shop classes in school,” he says. “That's where I learned the basics of how things are made and the tools used to manufacture them.”

Dan doesn't blindly build his sculptures from found objects. He very often knows who designed the original product, who built it, when, and where it was sold. His art pays homage to his colleagues from past generations, he says.

Using the innards of cast-off flashlights, radios and power tools gives old junk new worth. But where does he dig up the body parts?

“My best sources have been local outdoor flea markets,” he says. In the summer, Dan likes to hit the Community Garage Sale and Superfleas at the Rochester Public Market, among others.

In wintertime, he turns to favorite thrift stores and rummages online.

“I try to restrain myself from spending too much on eBay,” he says. It helps that his friends and family save their unwanted appliances for Dan.

“They know not to send robot parts to the landfills,” he says.

A 1930 electric lantern, a pair of Ray-O-Vac Woodsman flashlights, and a pair of tongs invented by Samuel J. Popiel (Ron Popiel's father) are just a few of the products reborn in “Poppi.” Photo by Lauren Bentley.And his family is more than a source for raw material.

“They're a constant source of inspiration and encouragement for me,” he says. His daughter is a photographer. His son is a shipwright. His wife is an educator.

Dan recently completed a commissioned piece and is currently working on expanding his collection.

“Right now I'm focused on building inventory,” he says. “And trying to keep other project ideas in their cages.”

A head for design and a heart for nostalgia are sure to take him far.


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Reader Comments (3)

i am honored to be included in your blog.
i will be working hard to be the artist you've described.
sincere thanks.

April 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdan bentley

You're very welcome, Dan. Enjoyed writing it. Let me know when you have a show!

April 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterJonathan Everitt

Nice post! Dan does amazing work!

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJackbear

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