The Rolling Ball Web
An Online Compendium of Rolling Ball Sculptures, Clocks, Etc.
By David M. MacMillan et. al.
Shab Levy is the president of Levy Design, Inc., a Portland, Oregon based firm which creates interactive science exhibits. Since 1973, he has been building rolling ball sculptures which he names "Gravitrams." In addition to the Gravitrams, he has also created many other kinetic works which bridge the gulf between art and science. More recently, his son, Ariel Levy, has begun creating Gravitrams.
Levy Design may be reached online at:
Levy Design, Inc.
I would like to express my gratitude to Shab Levy for his generosity in sharing photographs of his work and information about his career. Without his help, these pages on his work would not be possible. Thanks!
Shab Levy has very kindly provided the following biographical sketch.
I was born in Bulgaria in 1939, immigrated to Israel when I was 10 and moved to the USA in 1967. I have lived here since.
My background is in science and in industrial design and my passion is kinetic art, especially sculpture. Around 1961 I saw a kinetic art exhibition organized by Gallerie Denise Rene in Paris. That exhibition had works by some of the best kinetic sculptors. It turned me on and gave me the incentive to look for more kinetic art. In a subsequent visit to Europe I was exposed to the works of Jean Tinguely and I knew that in a small way, I needed to express myself by creating a kinetic sculpture that would be whimsical, attractive and complex all at the same time. Thus the first Gravitram was born in 1973, a work in cooperation with George Hohnstein, a friend who had better machining skills than me at the time. We put about 500 hours in creating the sculpture and I gave it the name Gravitram, from GRAVIty and TRAMway. (Not "Gravitron" as some people insist on calling it!) This was done in my spare time while working as exhibit designer and exhibition director for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, OR.
I created 3 more Gravitrams in my basement. Eventually I started my own exhibit design and fabrication business with a large studio and machine shop. This allowed me finally to build Gravitrams that are taller than 8 feet. The largest ball that I used was 6 inches in diameter and the smallest less than one inch. Recent Gravitrams that were created in the studio are made from 3/16" stainless steel track, using balls that are between 2-4 inches made of hard plastic. Some Gravitrams are musical. One Gravitram was 25 feet long but shallow and the tracks were made of hardwood. Another Gravitram used copper troughs in which water flowed and tripped various levers. The largest and most complex Gravitram was built for a museum in Brazil 3 years ago. It is approximately 15' tall and 12' in diameter. It is controlled by the visitor through a computer console allowing different gates and tricks to operate according to visitors' input. It was shipped from Portland to Brazil in one single piece in a full size container. The latest Gravitram was created in my studio by my son, Ariel Levy, in his spare time while working on his master's in Civil Engineering.
Why Gravitrams? Actually, creating these kinetic sculptures is only a small part of my professional life. For living, we make exhibits for science museums all over the world, and once in a while I can convince my clients to order also a Gravitram.
As I get closer to retirement, and having created some very large Gravitrams, I am looking to the other extreme, namely to figure out the smallest one I can create.
I can't finish this sketch of my passions without mentioning one other, albeit with little connection to kinetic art. It is stereoscopic photography to which I devote a significant amount of time these days. Once in a while I photograph the Gravitrams in 3-D, which helps not only when telling people what it is, but also giving a far better realistic view of the sculpture itself.
October 31, 1999
The Biographical Sketch by Shab Levy is copyright © 1999 by Shab Levy and is used with permission. Thanks! With the exception of any material noted as being in the public domain, all other material in this document is copyright © 1998 by David M. MacMillan.
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