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Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race
A Brief History of the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race



Here's a Sculpture!
Hobart Brown's original Pentacycle
Hobart Brown’s original Pentacycle on display in Ferndale, California.

1969–1999: Pre-Baltimore

The first Kinetic Sculpture Race was held in 1969 in Ferndale, California. Local artist Hobart Brown decided to upgrade his son Justin’s tricycle, and by the time he was done, he had added a great deal of material including two more wheels. His neighbor Jack Mays thought he could make something better than Hobart’s “Pentacycle,” and challenged Hobart to a race during the upcoming town arts festival.  The winner of the race was Bob Brown of nearby Eureka, who created a smoke-emitting turtle that laid eggs. The race received broad publicity when photos of a congressman riding the Pentacycle were seen nationally.

In the 1970s, that original racecourse grew and got more technically challenging, spanning three days including major segments on water, mud, and sand dunes along the Pacific Coast.  With the expansion of Kinetic Sculpture Races to other locations including Baltimore, the original race is know known as the World Championship.  It starts in the town of Arcata, continues through Eureka, and finishes in Ferndale, all within Humboldt County.  You can read more about the history of Kinetic Sculpture Races in California and throughout the world on Wikipedia, which also has links to more sources.

1999–2014: Baltimore Race

The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race (also known as the East Coast Championship) began in 1999 when Rebecca Hoffberger, founder of the American Visionary Art Museum, heard about the World Championship on television. She wanted to bring the race to Baltimore, and worked with Hobart to do it. Since the beginning, Theresa Segreti has led AVAM’s sponsorship of the race. For the first year, there were just six entries. AVAM built the Cha Cha Bird, the most impressive sculpture that year that served as inspiration to others.  Two years later in 2001, the Chicken was rebuilt as Fifi the giant pink poodle—and has been the race’s mascot every year since.

The Racecourse

Thanks to geography and environmental laws, part of the California race takes place on US-101 where it is a limited-access freeway. Fortunately, the sculptures in Baltimore do not travel down I-95! Instead, the paved segments of the Baltimore race take place mostly on the right-lane of multi-lane roadways, with sculptures separated from traffic by cones or the substantial metal barriers on Light Street and Pratt Street alongside the Inner Harbor. Where roads are too narrow, they are closed for the race. While the pavement portions of the race cover the greatest distance, they aren’t the most exciting parts of the race--those are undoubtedly the various obstacles.

Water Entries over the Years

The first year, Hobart Brown and Theresa worked out the racecourse. Racers in California had long gotten used to a miles-long crossing of Humboldt Bay, so they laid out a course across the Inner Harbor. Since all of the racers in Baltimore had never even seen the California race, they weren’t prepared for the waves on the Chesapeake Bay. Crossing even the harbor requires a robust boat design. The race served as such an impediment to legitimate vessels that the Coast Guard prohibited them from the crowded Inner Harbor waters. In subsequent years, the racecourse had a morning water entry at the Canton Waterfront Park near the Korean War Memorial, and an afternoon water entry at the Museum of Industry (BMI).  There was no permanent boat ramp at the BMI water entry, so a temporary ramp was installed each year.  That ramp was so steep that most sculptures had to be lowered on ropes, and the end of the ramp in the water was such a hard climb that most sculptures needed a great deal of help to exit.  The second water entry was removed from the racecourse after the 2004 race.

Patterson Park Obstacles

Patterson Park has been a part of the race ever since the second year.  (In 1999, a mud pit was created on Boston Street.)

Mud: Since 2000, Patterson Park has always been the site of the mud pit.  Through 2006, the mud was located on the curved roadway immediately adjacent to the Casino building.  However, the building was restored before the 2007 race, so the mud pit was moved down the hill.

Sand: The sand used to be on the approach to the mud at the Casino, so when the mud moved, so did the sand.

The Dragonfly Divas on Ice in the 2002 race.  Photo courtesy of Joo Chung.
The Dragonfly Divas race across the ice rink in the 2002 race. Photo courtesy of Joo Chung.

Ice: In 2002, the race was held on the earliest date ever—April 13. The Patterson Park ice rink was still open, so that year the race included an ice segment—the only ice crossing in the history of any Kinetic Sculpture Race, worldwide.  However, the disadvantage of having the race so early was evident on that overcast day—it was quite chilly. Since then, the race has been held the last weekend in April or the first weekend in May, after the ice rink is closed for summer.

Volunteers

AVAM has always worked hard to recruit volunteers, because many devoted volunteers move on to create sculptures of their own! However, the volunteer corps is growing as the race becomes more well-known. Anyone interested in more information about volunteering should check out the Volunteer! page.



photo courtesy of Ellin Beltz

Hobart Brown, 1934–2007

Hobart Brown, the founder of Kinetic Sculpture Racing, died of pneumonia November 7, 2007 at Redwood Memorial Hospital in Humboldt County, California. Hobart created the first Kinetic Sculpture in 1969, and very actively promoted what became the World Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race during the following decades. He helped guide creation of the Baltimore race in 1999, and attended in subsequent years. The photo to the left shows him at the 2004 Baltimore Race. His last words were “Tell the press!” You can read about his rich life on Wikipedia.
The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race is sponsored and run by the American Visionary Art Museum. KineticBaltimore.com is the volunteer work of Tom Jones.
If you have any suggestions about making this site better, or any questions, you can e-mail Tom at tjones@spril.com.