Boston Architect Richard Bertman's Kinetic Sculptures Make Moves at Cotuit Center for the Arts

Aug 3, 2015

When Richard Bertman went to California to pursue a degree in architecture, he left with a serious hobby after taking an elective course in welding.

“I started to make this thing, and I didn’t like it,” Bertman said. “When it was completed, I threw it in the trash. I was walking around the campus and someone said, ‘Hey, I saw your piece in the museum.' The professor had taken it out of the trash and put it in the museum. And I thought to myself, ‘Well, maybe I have some abilities here, and I should continue.’ But I really love to do it.”

Since completing his first sculpture over 50 years ago at the University of California at Berkley, Bertman has continued to find time for sculpting, outside of his responsibilities as a partner at the international architecture firm CBT.

“When I sculpt, it’s a relief from the more - not mundane - but more structured kind of administrative things you have to do in architecture, along with the creative,” Bertman said. “So, I think there’s something in me that wants to do more creative things.” 

Bertman finds solace in sculpting because there's no pressure to please a client or follow rules and restrictions. David Kuehn is the The Cotuit Center for the Art’s Executive Director. He has curated a dozen of Bertman’s kinetic sculptures as a part of the Center’s summer theme “Let Me Entertain You.”

Richard Bertman with his sculpture "Searching for Leonardo"
Credit Photo by Kat Sampson

“The pieces that are in this exhibit on the kinetic side are playful and whimsical, and just have a really great sense of humor,” Kuehn said.

The sculptures on exhibit move with the push of a button that visitors will find on the floor next to the piece. The smallest moving sculpture titled “Wimbledon” is about the size of a shoebox, but the rest tower around six feet.

The pieces are mostly made of welded steel and carved wood and reside in Bertman’s home when they’re not on display. Kuehn distinctly remembers first time he stepped in the artist’s home.

“When we walked into Richard’s house, we were amazed that it was completely filled, from one room to another, of these four, five, six-foot sculptures that moved, that made all kinds of noise,” Kuehn said. “It was just crazy. It was almost like walking into an amusement park of sorts, that someone lived in, but of a really high artistic caliber.”

When he got out of school his art was more abstract, but as he got older, Bertman noticed his pieces becoming more and more figurative and recognizable. He exhibits his work on a consistent basis, but doesn’t like to sell his pieces. This attachment can pose a problem, especially evident with the mechanical clone-like sculpture he keeps in his house.

“Of course, I’m the only model I have, so it’s always looking into the mirror and using myself,” Bertman said. “I think that’s what scares my wife a little bit when she sees these things moving.

Visitors can see that sculpture, “First Attempts at a Bionic Man”, among others at the exhibit, which is open to the public for free until August 24. Bertman stops by the gallery periodically to fix a twisted chain or malfunctioning motor, but he says the wear-and-tear associated with kinetic sculptures is worth it, as long as visitors leave smiling.

Creative Life is edited by Jay Allison and produced by Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole.