Shab Levy: A biographical sketch with an emphasis on Kinetic Sculpture.

I was born in Bulgaria in 1939, immigrated to Israel when I was 10 and moved to the USA in 1967. I have lived in Portland, Oregon, USA since.

My background is in science and in industrial design and my passion is kinetic art, especially sculpture. Around 1961 I saw a kinetic art exhibition organized by Gallerie Denise Rene in Paris. That exhibition had works by some of the best kinetic sculptors in the world, many of them still alive at the time. That show inspired and gave me the incentive to look for and discover additional work of this genre. In a subsequent visit to Europe I was exposed to the works of Jean Tinguely and I knew then that in a small way, I needed to express myself by creating a kinetic sculpture that would be whimsical, attractive and complex all at the same time. Thus the first Gravitram was born in 1973, a work in cooperation with George Hohnstein, a friend who had good machining skills. We put about 500 hours in creating the sculpture and I gave it the name Gravitram, from GRAVIty and TRAMway. (Not "Gravitron" as some people insist on calling it!) This was done in my “spare time” while working as exhibit designer and exhibition director for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon.

After this, I created 3 more Gravitrams in my basement. Eventually I started my own exhibit design and fabrication business with a large studio and machine shop. This allowed me to finally build Gravitrams that were taller than 8 feet – the height of my basement ceiling. The largest ball that I used was 6 inches in diameter and the smallest less than one inch. Some of the Gravitrams that were created in my studio were made from 3/16" stainless steel track, using balls that are between 2-4 inches made of hard plastic. Some Gravitrams were musical. In one Gravitram, 25 feet long and less than 2 feet deep, the tracks were made of hardwood. Another Gravitram used copper troughs in which water flowed and tripped various devices. The largest and most complex Gravitram was built for a museum in Brazil in 1995. It is approximately 15' tall and 12' in diameter and is controlled by the visitor through a computer console allowing different gates and tricks to operate according to the visitor’s input. It was shipped from Portland to Brazil in one single piece in a full size shipping container. The Dallas-Texas Gravitram was created in my studio by my son, Ariel Levy, in his spare time while finishing his master's degree in Civil Engineering in 1999. The latest Gravitram was a joint project between Ariel Levy and myself which was created for Exploration Place Science Center in Wichita, Kansas. It was finished in March 2010.

Why Gravitrams? Actually, creating these kinetic sculptures is only a small part of my professional life. My firm Levy Design, Inc., has created exhibits for science museums all over the world, and once in a while a Gravitram was just one of those exhibits.

Having been involved with some very large Gravitrams, I am looking to the other extreme, namely to figure out the smallest one I can create.

I can't finish this sketch of my passions without mentioning one other, albeit with little connection to kinetic art. It is stereoscopic photography to which I devote a significant amount of time these days. Once in a while I photograph Gravitrams in 3D, which helps not only in telling people what it is, but also giving a much better and realistic view of the sculpture itself. When you see a double photograph of some Gravitrams, you will know that you need to use a stereoscope to get a truly 3D stereoscopic view of those images, or if you know how to do that, you can free-view the images without the aid of a viewer. You can learn more about stereoscopic photography in other parts of this website.

You may start exploring the different sculptures in more detail by going to the Kinetic Sculpture Page where you will find the  GRAVITRAM SCULPTURES.