September 30, 2016

A Utahn’s Eye for Robots

SCULPTURE ARTIST BILLY WELLS

 

Robot Creations at Liberty Park Emporium

Robot Creations at Liberty Park Emporium

“I like old stuff. It is art to me.” So says Billy Wells. Drawn to the era of the 40s and 50s, a time he describes as more mechanical than electrical with durable goods built to last, Wells collects old parts that he turns into first-class robots.

In his hands an old oil dripper becomes a shoulder, a vintage microphone a head, and an amp meter a body. Picking up an antique camera he holds it and sees a face. He says that when Salt Lake Instrument closed, he thought he had died and gone to heaven. The warehouse contained three quarters of a million vacuum tubes alone – a robot builder’s dream.

Billy Wells started Aerodine Machine Inc. 25 years ago. Aerodine machines medical instruments that require precision and care. “I have been so fortunate. Our business has never struggled and I have some time to play,” he says. In January of 2013 he built his first robot as a present for his grandson. His grandson was scared to death of it, but Wells had so much fun building it that he kept going.

When designing a robot he usually starts with the body and then looks through his parts until he finds a head that fits. He says it feels as if sometimes the robots take over. He starts two at a time until one takes precedence because it is more interesting and he sets the second one aside for another time. If he can’t find just the right part from his collection he machines a new one.

Billy met Monica Zoltanski, of Liberty Park Emporium, at an antique show and she fell in love with his creations. He wasn’t sure how to market them and she said she wanted to sell them at her shop. His robots can be found there as well as at Alderwood Fine Art. He got a lot of positive feedback about the robots, but no one was buying. Then came Salt Lake Comic Con. During three days of the event he sold 10 of the 13 robots he brought with him. Until that point he wasn’t sure they would sell. He was also surprised by the people who bought them. Two went to doctors, one to a chiropractor and one to a dentist.

Billy Wells

Billy Wells

His success at Comic Con let him know he was on to something. He also found out that the core audience for his sculptures, “are people who fondly remember robots from The Jetsons and Lost in Space and people who have money.” His average price is between $750 and $850 for the ¼ scale robots that stand between 20 and 24 inches high.

You can see more of Billy Wells robots on Facebook at Robot Sculptures by Billy Wells. Also find at Liberty Park Emporium in Sugar House.