Posted by: groundsforsculpture | May 21, 2011

Daniel A. Henderson: The Art of Invention

Sculpture by Daniel Henderson. Photo by David Steele.

By Linda Pickering, Volunteer Docent

Just a day before the opening reception for The Art of Invention exhibit in the Domestic Arts Building, about two dozen docents had the opportunity to meet with and hear artist and inventor Daniel A. Henderson talk about his works.

After earning a degree in business, Henderson went to work as a salesman for IBM, offering its Selectric® typewriters and, eventually, the entire IBM business line of products to customers. After becoming conversant with all that technology and seven different computer languages, in 1993 Henderson had his own idea for a product and formed a new business to create and commercialize it. Henderson waited tables at night so he could develop the product by day; he had a prototype of the wireless picture phone produced, introduced it at that year’s consumer electronics show, and eventually licensed it to others. Today, virtually every wireless device that transmits photos and videos (including the smart phone in your pocket) utilizes the “picture phone” technology developed by Henderson.

Henderson credits royalties from the twenty-six patents he holds for wireless and picture/video inventions for enabling him to pursue his work as an artist.

In 2007, the execution of Saddam Hussein was captured on a cell phone video by a prison guard, immediately made its way to the Internet, and “went viral.” This set Henderson to thinking about the unintended consequences unleashed by technology, some of which he views as negative. That his young children could view an execution because of the technology that he had developed drove Henderson to believe that he had a responsibility to comment and provoke conversation.

Four of the works in this exhibit are phones – perhaps because Henderson wants his work to cause “people to talk about technology, rather than merely to use technology to talk.”

The short-lived technologies of the early twenty-first century have long term consequences; we rarely have face-to-face conversations, we don’t gather around a radio broadcast, and we make anonymous comments that can be viewed around the world. Henderson the artist chooses stone, metal, glass – all permanent and natural materials – to make his statements about technology, using some familiar icons of the late twentieth century to spark the discussion.

Photo by David Steele.

The 1200-pound Black 500, based on the Western Electric design for a standard rotary dial phone, evokes memories for all viewers of a certain age. Remember party lines? In Henderson’s monumental version, the handset sits off the base, spurring thoughts of an unfinished conversation.

By Daniel Henderson. Photo by David Steele.

A gigantic pink marble Princess Phone, a gorgeous though silent table radio, Marconi, and an over-sized View Master with a frozen scene of a geyser, Yellowstone, all take us back to the sturdy remnants of the last century. Housecall, a cast bronze blow-up of the bag a physician would take along when tending to patients at their homes, memorializes when health care was personalized and local.

In his essay Scavenging, Jonathan Franzen writes, “Obsolescence is the leading product of our national infatuation with technology.” Franzen’s essay includes a paean to his own old black rotary phone, provoked by a visit to the Mercer Museum in Doylestown where a phone identical to one that “still served proudly in [his] living room” was displayed in a case labeled “Obsolete Technology.”

Like Franzen, Henderson looks to the obsolete to inform his art, and provoke our response.

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