Pittsburgh Artist's Retro Robot Kickstarter To Fund Residency At PIT

May 18, 2015

Crafted from found objects, scrap metal and old machine parts, Toby Fraley's robots evoke retro imagery familiar from mid-20th-century popular culture.
Credit Toby Atticus Fraley

The robots are taking over — starting with Pittsburgh International Airport.

If Pittsburgh artist Toby Fraley gets his way, Southwest Airlines passengers arriving at gate 15 in the airport’s A Concourse will be among the first to meet them.

Fraley, whose “Robot Repair” storefront installation was featured in downtown Pittsburgh in 2011 and 2012, is launching a Kickstarter campaign to reprise the popular exhibit at PIT.

“The Airport Authority is totally behind this,” Fraley said. The space, which will be provided at no cost if the campaign succeeds, is being re-outfitted in preparation.

“They don’t actually have a budget to get my work in there though,” Fraley said. “That’s why I’m doing the Kickstarter.”

Fraley hopes to raise $10,000 by mid-June to pay for materials, transportation and other expenses for the project. Backers will be rewarded with T-shirts, buttons, stickers and other premiums bearing the “Fraley’s Robot Repair” insignia.

“I’m even looking at making custom View-Masters from the ‘60s,” Fraley said, “so you can see the shop in 3D at home if you can’t make it to the real shop.”

Fraley’s design for the re-launch will be approximately three times the size of the original installation opposite Heinz Hall, giving him space to add “a few robot-related surprises” that will be new to viewers.

The original "Fraley's Robot Repair" exhibit in the Cultural District, 2012.
Credit Toby Atticus Fraley

The first Robot Repair shop was honored with the 2012 Mayor’s Award for Public Art and became a hit with passersby on 6th Street. Hundreds shared selfies posing with the robots.

Crafted from found objects, scraps of metal and old machine parts, Fraley’s robots evoke retro imagery from mid-20th-century popular culture – a style that’s sometimes described as “paleofuturism.”

“My dad collected a lot of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines from the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Fraley said. “I was inspired by that whole feel – a lot of stylized designs (and) robots. It’s a recurring theme in my work”

Fraley credits Pittsburgh’s tech sector for generating much of the excitement around the exhibit and hopes robotics students and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in particular will support the crowdfunding effort.

“I did hear [the exhibit] had a following up at CMU,” Fraley said. “They’re making the real robots; I’m making the pretty robots. If we could combine our talents I think we could really do something.”

The Kickstarter campaign runs from May 19 to June 17. If it succeeds, Fraley hopes to have the expanded Robot Repair shop up and running at PIT by early September.