A Matisse is taken down for restoration

Artwork packed up for trip to Groton warehouse.Artwork packed up for trip to Groton studio.

Over the weekend, volunteers dismantled the Charlestown Bells - the colorful series of bells across the Charles River Damn that once let you ring out across the river but which had fallen into disrepair in recent years. They were taken to a studio in Groton, where, over the summer, they'll be restored to working order. J.J. Gilmartin, who took the photos in this post, explains:

The Bells are an interactive musical sculpture by the artist Paul Matisse. Matisse, who also created the Kendall Band at the MIT T stop and invented something called the karilloscope, is the grandson of Henri Matisse and a really cool 80 year old dude.

The mechanisms that let passers-by play the Bells had been breaking one by one over they years. Only one was in working order when Matisse got a grant from the DCR to fix them.

This past Saturday a group of 9 local volunteers helped Matisse and his assistant load them all up onto a truck. Now the Bells are in Groton, MA, at the artist's studio, for repair. They'll be back to make music again in September. For what it's worth, the octogenarian Matisse came straight from Logan off a red-eye from Seattle (he was visiting family) and worked for four hours with the rest of us.

Matisse at the damMatisse at the dam.

More photos and video from the Friends of the Charlestown Bells



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Will this group actually

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Will this group actually maintain them or will they quickly fall back into disrepair like the kendall band?

Hoping for a permanent fix

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Good question, Dani. Mr. Matisse and his assistant believe they have figured out what exactly was breaking, and why. They have a long-lasting fix in mind. Of course, only time will tell for sure if it works. The grant from the DCR does not include maintenance, unfortunately (the volunteers helped with heavy lifting; the repairs require paid, skilled labor and precise machining).

Oh, and the studio is an incredibly cool old church, not a warehouse.

Wareouse references fixed

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It's not like you didn't use the word "studio" in the e-mail you sent me, yeesh.

And sign me one of those people who can't wait for the bells to be restored.

I love the arts...but....

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I remember when the Kendall Band was installed. It was new, it was funky, and it was used. Years passed and it fell into disrepair as it and the artist aged.

There was a well intentioned push by the artist and folks from MIT to restore the Kendall Band a few years ago; one out of the three installations now work, the other two, still appear to be in repair status with no clear indication when they will be fully repaired and be in workable condition.

When the artist known as the "really cool 80 year dude" passes, who will take over these installations? Is the artist the only one with the technical knowledge of how the things work and/or how to repair them? Is he training folks to keep the installations going? Is there a viable plan for future care in place or even being worked on? And how much will it cost to keep these things in working order over the years?

And how much will they be really used? If I use the Kendall Band as an example, once the novelty wore off, it appears not much.

Valid questions and concerns

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Dani and whyaduck, the best answer I can give is that Matisse believes he now knows why the Bells were breaking and what he needs to do to make them work properly for much longer than they originally did. Of course, only time will really tell. He does intend to document what he's doing in case anybody needs it in what he called "a post-Matisse world."

One of the challenges here is that the DCR grant for the original installation, and for the repairs, does not include maintenance. Those of us who volunteered could offer muscle and wrench turning, but not the skilled labor necessary for the real repair work.

In any event, we all hope the fix sticks. Judging from the comments of folks who walked by Saturday, the novelty has not yet warn off.

Not true a novelty worn off

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Whenever I was at the Kendall Station I would play the music of subway spheres. The tones were gorgeous. Get the long pipes rocking and the station is filled with lovely tones.

I think that a continuous flow of visitors and new students will always provide people who are new to the instruments. Add those who ears prefer the dulcet tones of the Kendall Band to the whiny screamy bleed of earbuds and cell phone addicts and there will always be plenty of people to join this band.


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I can play too.

Once there was a silly old ramn
Who thought he could butt a hole in the damn
No one could make that ramn scramn
He kept buttin' that damn, 'cause he had...


I just posted a comment about this, what... a month ago? Saying that I'd like to see this thing restored!

I'd like to take credit for bringing this to their attention via UniversalHub, whether I'm responsible or not. Now, now, no need to crowd around, there's plenty of time to thank me later.