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At the Exploratorium – Scott Weaver’s Amazing Toothpick Art

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At the Exploratorium – Scott Weaver’s Amazing Toothpick Art

The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the landmarks featured in Scott Weaver's toothpick art model of San Francisco.

Photo courtesy of Luigi Anzivino.

Scott Weaver’s Toothpick Art:

What can you do with toothpicks and glue? See Scott Weaver’s toothpick art at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and you’ll be asking what can’t be done. In 1968, at age 8, Weaver glued toothpicks into an abstract object for a class assignment. That toothpick art sculpture was the beginning of a hobby-turned-obsession. It has culminated in a phenomenon the size of a garage door that is both a labyrinth and a detailed rendering of iconic San Francisco--made entirely of toothpicks and Elmer’s. You have to see it in action to believe it, and it’s at the Exploratorium through June 18, 2011.

Tinkering with Wood:

Scott Weaver’s Rolling through the Bay toothpick artwork is displayed at the Tinkering Studio, a particularly fun area of the SF Exploratorium where you can tinker with tools, make things and inspect contraptions up close. The studio focuses in May on wood, and besides Weaver’s piece, it has a wood-sanding Rube Goldberg created by artist Bernie Lubell. As one person pedals a wooden stationary bike, another person is able to walk on a wooden treadmill, activating a part that sands a wooden dowel. (If the dowel reaches toothpick size, it’ll be given to Weaver).

Intricacies of Toothpick Art:

The world has a few toothpick sculptures even larger than Rolling through the Bay, but they lack the kinetic feature of Weaver’s creation, he says. Drop a ping-pong ball into Weaver’s Coit Tower, and it’ll spiral down the tower, duck under a cable car, through the Transamerica Pyramid and past Weaver’s great-grandfather’s former winery and the Cliff House, zigzag down Lombard to Chinatown, hit the Palace of Fine Arts, scoot by the Dutch Windmill, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, escape behind Alcatraz, reappear at the Maritime Museum and splash into the old Fleishhacker Pool. As the Exploratorium’s video shows, the trip is over in seconds.

That’s just one of the circuitous tour options amid Weaver’s thick forest of toothpicks, which he started constructing in 1974. Other ping-pong ball routes cover Mount Tamalpais’ redwoods, the Haight, the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf, wind in and out of various stately Victorians, cross the Bay Bridge, cruise the Castro’s rainbow-colored toothpicks, and slide past the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 World Series trophy, into an over-sized Coca-Cola bottle and baseball glove and finally into AT&T Park.

The baseball section, the latest addition to the sculpture, took about 100 hours to complete, says Weaver, who lives in Rohnert Park. Excluding that portion, Rolling through the Bay has devoured about 100,000 toothpicks and 3,000 of his hours over 34 years, Weaver estimates.

Weaver offers one crucial pointer for would-be toothpick artists and architects: Don’t try to glue toothpicks together by holding one in each hand. He dips them in Elmer’s Glue, joins them on a flat surface, uses paper cups or whatever’s handy to prop them in place as needed, and lets them sit for 20 minutes.

Why do something so time-consuming? “Why not?” as Weaver said to an audience at the Exploratorium. Why do people spend so much time watching TV? he noted. “I love to create and use my imagination and use my hands. Not enough kids use their hands anymore.”

Why toothpicks? “Why not?” Weaver repeated. “I love the idea that a toothpick—back then [in 1968], 27 cents a box—and Elmer’s glue can bring joy to me,” he said. “It’s expression.”

Scott Weaver’s Rolling through the Bay
Through June 18, 2011
Tuesday-Sunday and Memorial Day (May 30), at 10 am–5 pm.
At the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio, at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St., San Francisco.
Admission: Free-$15.

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