THE MAD MUSEUM. Ann’s Favourite Article of 2020.
Photos by Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
Ann Evans introduces us to a museum that runs like clockwork – Stratford upon Avon’s MAD Museum.
If you or the family love mind-boggling mechanical creations, quirky art and mesmerising movement then a visit to the MAD Museum in Stratford upon Avon is a must. ‘MAD’ stands for Mechanical Art and Design and the museum is the only permanent venue for mechanical art in the country. And it was voted the ‘Best Museum in Warwickshire’ on Trip Advisor.
The MAD Museum features around 90 pieces of kinetic art and automata which has been created by innovative artists from all around the world. And if you aren’t sure what kinetic art and automata actually are, think about the machines and gizmos in Wallace and Gromit and Scrapheap Challenge. In this case, it’s a fascinating collection of ingenuous inventions, often beautifully crafted, which rock, roll, spin, open, close, mesmerise and intrigue.
Visitors of all ages really do have fun at this museum, watching and interacting all the whirligig inventions. There’s an educational zone and a family zone where visitors can really get hands on and inspired, discovering and learning in a thoroughly enjoyable way science, technology, engineering, art and maths. Additionally, in the educational zone there are resources for school workshops and a range of basic automata kits that teachers, parents and kids can buy to take home or back to school.
Founder of the museum, is Kenilworth man Richard Simmons, who says: “I want kids to put down their mobiles and get inspired by interacting with engineering and design.”
Richard has always been fascinated by how things work and loves to see how mechanical parts interact with one another. Creating a museum to showcase such things has been his lifelong dream. As a trained chartered surveyor, turned property developer and online entrepreneur, he finally decided he would create such a museum.
So, in 2012, with the help of his family, in particular his son Iain and nephew Mike Abbotts they gathered together a team dedicated to turning that dream into reality, creating the amazing MAD Museum.
After finding the right location for the museum, Richard put on display pieces of kinetic art that he’d collected over the years as well as building up an impressive line-up of resident artists. Plus, he has also creates his own inventions. Other artists have come from the UK, Holland, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, France, China and the USA. Notably amongst them, Frederick Rowland Emett OBE who created eight machines for the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film starring Dick Van Dyke. Also, Pascal Bettex who recently created the Shakespeare-themed kinetic art sculpture in a telephone box for the MAD Museum.
In the first year of opening, the Museum saw over 34,000 visitors and it continues to grow not only in visitors’ numbers but also in the amazing pieces of mesmerising art on show and the range of talented resident artists whose work is on display.
The museum is in Henley Street not far from Shakespeare’s birthplace and from the moment you set foot in the door you are met with the rhythmic sounds of whirring and clicking, and the intriguing sights of weird and wonderful inventions the likes of which Inventor Caractacus Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang might have made!
There are rolling ball machines, a roaring mechanical dinosaur head, an invention that swings out if you clap, there’s lasers and 3-dimensional illusions, steampunk-type creations, impossible gears and cogs, intricate wooden moving sculptures, old fashioned and modern – so much, in fact that you don’t know where to look first!
Behind the scenes, is the workshop where Mike Abbotts and other members of the team create new pieces and kits on their laser-cutting machines, as well as making sure all the inventions are maintained and in good working order.
“A lot of it is reverse engineering,” said Mik. “You are always trying to work out how they have done it. Sometimes you have to go away and come back. It is always challenging and no two days are alike, but you always find the solution eventually.
There’s activity sheets and craft facilities, plus tickets to the MAD Museum last all day, so you can take a break for lunch or shopping and sightseeing and come back later that day.
The Museum is open Monday – Friday from 10:30am – 4:30pm and at weekends/holidays from 10am – 5:30pm. To find out more information about The MAD Museum please visit www.themadmuseum.co.uk.
The MAD Museum
4-5 Henley Street
Stratford upon Avon