Todd Cahill is best known as a Steamachine Artist. That's how we at the Museum have always known him. HIs studio/workshop is located in an adjacent mill building. He builds steam machines from 19th century blueprints. He builds kinetic sculptures.
Todd's profile on the Waltham Mills Artist Association website as "an artist, mechanical engineer, model builder, and interpreter of the history of technology." And his membership in the New England Model Engineering Society attests to his commitment as practitioner.
But his extraordinarily intricate and gorgeous pen-and-ink drawings are a revelation.
We are very proud to be hosting Todd's first ever exhibition of his work as a fine artist in two dimensions. Please read on to learn about this exhibition:
Gone & Now
Perspectives in Drawing by Todd D. Cahill
A sculptor by training and inclination, Todd Cahill pushes beyond the childhood engineering of toy worlds and constructs through to the visual investigation of drawing. ‘Gone & Now’ explores the journey of his creative process from its genesis to today. Though devoid of human form, these drawings are very much about people; people he has known, friends that have left, and those that are no more. His metaphoric choice of subject matter reveals a transcendental connection between what is gone and what is present now.
Beginning with Union Station in Worcester Massachusetts; a high school assignment initiates an excuse to explore an abandoned gateway to the industrialized age. Within this abandoned sea of apathy Todd discovers a positive channel for the emptiness of loss: drawing. Empowered with the feeling he could rewrite the course of history and visually restore the building the city had left in near ruin, he set to task on this epic drawing. In 2006 a renovated Union Station reopened, the marble of the towers now in fiberglass. But this Disneyfication does not solve the problems of the city.
In college, Todd intended to explore the two-dimensional, but, like many on their college journey, the choice of one path leads to another. A pause in drawing led to exploration of the manufacturing process and the use of drawings to envisage three-dimensional worlds.
After surveying the epic steam sites in England some fifteen years later, Todd became disconcerted with the inability to portray the monumental scale of the three-dimensional diminutively. Whitacre was born out of that ‘Sturm and Drang’ dissatisfaction and desire. It marks the return of pen to page. The multi-volume photographic survey of British steam engines by George Watkins served as source book and point of departure. Art becomes the home where old technologies retire, showing respect for the outdated and elegantly engineered.
In 2008 Paisley was started as a result of personal loss. Todd’s opus is derived from a simple postcard image of the JP Coats thread mill, the third largest company in the entire world making something as minuscule as thread, and speaks to that polarity. It was thought that the production of silk thread required the dexterity of the human hand as if something so beautiful and intricate could never be produced by the impersonal power of a mountainous steam engine. In Paisley, you are drawn into a procession of impossible light, streaming in from both sides at once, ascending the ropes past the helical DNA spiral and into ethereal light.
The view of the Francis Cabot Lowell Mill boiler house—and now home to the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation—is just after the original trestle that carried the branch line of the Fitchburg Railroad to the coal gasification plant was unceremoniously dismantled to make room for a boardwalk. A modern day blight and barrier removed to ease the path for pedestrian movement. Just visible through the trees is the footbridge where friends now lost were first found. What gets removed, and what is left—or left with; when something is gone you are left with only now.
Waltham Watch Factory as seen from Mt. Feake Cemetery is a view Todd discovered in 2008 after moving to Waltham. The vantage point is just above the site where D.H. Church is buried. Church was the master watchmaker who engineered many of the machines and processes at the Watch Factory, making possible the production of precision miniature parts that comprise a watch. This final resting spot for Church allows him to keep a supervisory eye on the factory that his engineering mastery made possible.
The one commissioned piece in this group was done for Fred Jaggi, the director of the Wireless and Steam Museum in East Greenwich Rhode Island. The drawing was commissioned for his eightieth birthday. Both the museum and Mr. Jaggi represent familiar and fleeting themes in Todd’s life.
Todd Cahill depicts monuments that transition the era of artisan-craftsman to that of mass-production through the harnessing of the power of steam. Crumbling ruin becomes shrine to those who never had one. His portrayal of the abandoned is juxtaposed against his elaborate and bespoke settings. The void that accompanies personal loss is the same emptiness found in the structural giants of our past in this exhibition, Gone and Now.