The Contraptuary is Shasa Bolton's playground

Shasa Bolton deals in cogs, wheels and levers. He makes mechanical sculptures. 

The brain behind many of the contraptions on show at The Contraptuary in Sheffield, Shasa originally studied mechanical engineering, never expecting where it would lead him. 

When he finished his university studies Shasa “needed to get out of [his] brain” and went travelling.

In Europe he discovered the world of mechanical sculpture, and was captured. 

“In Germany I came across a gallery of mechanical musical instruments and it’s all these machines, inside them you might find a flute or a saxophone or a drum and a piano and a violin and they're all being played by machines,” he said. 

“These were like toys for the very rich a couple of hundred years ago and that just blew my mind and got me thinking ... I’ve always had a love of art and sculpture, and it'd be nice to combine engineering with the sculpture and I saw this as a way I could do it.”

When he returned from his travels he set up The Contraptuary and now spends his times working on new and ingenious mechanical contraptions. 

“Sometimes they’re based on older machines, like things they were doing a couple of hundred years ago ... [I try] to make it a bit simpler and more accessible for the everyday person,” Shasa said. 

“Another one was based on a Black Forest clock they were making a couple of hundred years ago … it had a little carved figure on top and on the hour it would eat little rats or dumplings ... I was quite fascinated by it. 

“I managed to figure out a little bit about how the mechanism was working and I thought it would be nice to take that idea and make it a bit more modern … instead of being a soldier it's a little monk and he’s eating cherries.

“That also plays on my own philosophies about life. I like my design not just to mean nothing, I like a little thought behind them and that sort of plays on ideas of mindfulness, which I appreciate.”

Shasa’s ideas about life are all reflected in his work, and his very love of mechanical sculpture reflects his desire to make meaning of the world around him. 

“I feel like everything's a bit of a mystery and … it’s almost like a study into trying to figure out the meaning of life in some removed way,” he said.

“I feel like it’s a similar thing to language, language is also a mechanism and it’s a way you process your thoughts and communicate and I guess mechanism in general is just a helpful way to explore things.” 

Shasa splits his time between the workshop, where he tinkers with the real mechanisms, and his computer where he generates 3D printing and programs robotics. 

“I can spend a long time when I’m sitting at a computer designing something and I do a bit of laser cutting and 3D printing and then after I’ve done that for a while Ii really feel like I need to get back into the workshop and do something tactile again, cutting and sawing and grinding and welding and it just feel nice again, it’s nice to have that combination,” he said.