Photo by Brian Selzick
I don’t recall precisely when my afinity for mechanics and fine antique machines first appeared, but by age twelve I was working on them steadily. This seems to have manifested spontaneously, as there were none among my family or friends with similar aptitudes or interests. My first passion was for early “talking machines”; the Edison phonographs and Victrolas of a century ago, with their clockwork gears, centrifugal speed regulators and mainsprings. Early radios with vacuum tubes were also of interest, as well as electro-mechanically captivating early jukeboxes, and just about anything else of advanced age that lit up or made sounds in interesting ways. Clocks were occasionally part of that world, along with brass cash registers, adding machines, music boxes, early typewriters and other treasures. Regardless of the form or function one of these old machine may have taken, I learned more with each success, and there was always an exquisite satisfaction in seeing a venerable old machine come to life through my efforts. In a few short years, half a century will have elapsed since my first active forays into the worlds of vintage technology.
A turning point that redirected nearly all of my energies in the direction of clock repair, occurred in 2005 when author-illustrator Brian Selznick reached out to me at the suggestion of a mutual friend, as someone who might be able to help Philadelphia’s The Franklin Institute Science Museum to resurrect the storied “Maillardet Automaton”. This famous, late 1700s clockwork figure of a small boy who draws pictures and writes poetry, was a key inspiration for a book that Brian was working on, tentatively titled “A Trip to the Moon”. During the course of our interaction, I became a technical consultant for Brian’s book, and to a certain extent, a character study for the story’s protagonist, Hugo. Details of what it was like as a 12-year-old with a sensitivity to old machines, found their way into Brian’s story. See: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/videos/teaching-content/meet-andrew-baron-mechanical-genius-behind-brian-selznicks-invention-hugo-cabret/
The book came out in 2007 and quickly became a New York Times Best Seller under its final title: “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”. In 2011, HUGO also became an Academy Award winning film directed by Martin Scorsese. With visually rich clockwork motifs inspired by Brian’s illustrations, the film has been seen by nearly every clockmaker in the country.
Shortly after the film came out, an article in the New York Times appeared that came to the attention of an accomplished group of watchmakers and clockmakers based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the MWCA. This group, in collaboration with the Minnesota Clockmakers Guild, sponsored me to come out and deliver a dedicated evening lecture about my automaton work, followed by a more technically in-depth slide show the next day, as the keynote speaker at the 2012 MWCA annual convention. This in turn opened the doors to a still ongoing series of precious opportunities to connect, and spend dedicated time with a few select and extraordinary mentors across the country. These keepers of the wisdom strive to preserve the fine art of high-quality clock repair, in a time when it would otherwise be a vanishing art.
During the past several years, clocks have all but taken over the shop. I’m continually amazed by the steady stream of work that comes in, and the variety of clocks in my customers’ homes here in Northern New Mexico. Many arrived along with their owners during recent decades as our town has grown. There’s no shortage of hand-made clocks that are 200 to 300 years old, in addition to the contemporary clocks that I regularly see, many of them very fine as well. It has been an eventful and rewarding journey.
I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to spend precious time with a few select Master Clockmakers of the clock trade; Masters who are increasingly few and far between, here in the 21st century. To say that I value and appreciate what these opportunities have brought me would be an understatement.
In these shops, using traditional, conservation-oriented repair methods in combination with what modern technology has to offer, the historic integrity of the clock is preserved even as full functionality is restored. The same high standards that I employ to repair the most precious antique clocks, I bring to the repair of cherished contemporary clocks as well. All are treated with the same personal care, as though each were my own.