By Andrew Kilstrom • Andrew Kilstrom • 

Local artist a study in motion

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterMichael Gillespie of Mad Mike Sculptures demonstrates the movements of BULLDOG A.N.T., made entirely of wood and magnets that hold each interlocking piece together.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Michael Gillespie of Mad Mike Sculptures demonstrates the movements of BULLDOG A.N.T., made entirely of wood and magnets that hold each interlocking piece together.

Gillespie moved to McMinnville with his family six years ago. Working as a motorcycle mechanic, he found himself repeatedly being laid off in the winter months, when the motorcycle business was slow.

He had long painted on the side. Four years ago, he added woodworking to his hobbies. He began crafting different playthings for his two children and it quickly turned into much more.

His first project was a cardboard diorama, a sort of interactive stage for his son and daughter. He moved on to a larger, more detailed set made of wood.

He soon began crafting ambitious action figures with multiple moving pieces. They were more detailed and better quality from what you find at the typical toy store.

“I made the first couple things for my kids, then realized I was having way too much fun with it and needed to do it further,” Gillespie said.

He calls his latest creation BULLDOG A.N.T. An interactive wood sculpture, it took him 300 hours to build, not counting design time, and has close to 160 pieces.

Each joint features hinges paired with magnets, allowing the legs and arms to move.

“At first, I used one magnet,” Gillespie said. “Then I made a model with two. Then I tried hinging them before getting to the final product.”

He entered the piece in a competition for Scroll Saw Woodworking and Crafts, a quarterly magazine devoted to high-end woodworking. He earned an honorable mention for creative design.

Gillespie said he’d have had a real chance at winning if the magazine had a category truly fitting his interactive toy-like sculptures.

“I think the reason I didn’t place was that my stuff doesn’t really fit their criteria,” he said. “The magazine is all about patterns and puzzles, stuff to look at.

“Pictures don’t really do BULLDOG A.N.T justice, because it’s meant to be interacted with and played with. It’s about movement.”

“I want to make things that are unique and interactive, that you can play with,” he said. “I want things to move. I want you to enjoy it. Otherwise, it would be a painting and all you could do is stare at it.”

Gillespie plans to submit his creations in this year’s Oregon Historical Modeler Society Model Show and Contest. He decided against entering last year, thinking his interactive sculptures didn’t fit a show typically featuring rigid models made of plastic, but was told he would have a good shot nonetheless.

He hopes the event can serve as a showcase for his work, allowing him to eventually turn his hobby into a business. He already has a name — Mad Mike’s Imaginarium.

“The model show will be my big debut,” he said. “It’s really about showing people what I can do, because there’s not a huge market of collectors or anything. But once they see what I can do, hopefully people will realize I can custom-make whatever they want.”

Gillespie is in the process of creating a set for a stop-animation movie to showcase the range of movement his creations are capable of. His goal is to have it ready by the time next year’s UFO Festival rolls around.

“By the end of this, I plan on making a stop animation film, kind of a commercial showcasing what I’ve built and what I can do,” he said. “It’s a good 10 months away, so I should have enough time.”

However, Gillespie has two children and a part-time job at Lowe’s to juggle. And like many artists, he’s a perfectionist. Sometimes he’ll invest more than 40 hours on a project, only to decide it’s not up to his standards.

“When I started getting into all this I kept finding myself saying, ‘I can do better, I can do better,’” he said. “I really try and push myself to the next limit.”

With work that requires precise calculations and meticulous attention to detail, it’s easy to make mistakes. And one hiccup can ruin an entire project.

While Gillespie admits it can be frustrating, he said the end result is always worth the struggles.

“It can be frustrating but at the same time it comes with the territory,” he said. “It wouldn’t be so rewarding if it wasn’t so frustrating.”

Gillespie has considered other ways of generating money through his woodwork as well. He’s considered selling ideas and designs to toy companies, for example.

However, he thinks working on his own is a better option. Mass-production often hinders the quality of the end-product, he said, and he’d hate to see that.

His wife, Diane, works as a letter carrier. With her income, combined with what he makes at Lowe’s, he thinks he has what he needs to fund projects.

“I originally talked to Hasbro about that, when I first started, and they gave me a big run around,” he said. “Now my goal is to outdo them. Not to out-produce them, because I could never do that, but to outdo them in quality, to surpass them in that aspect.”

Gillespie is currently working on a project called DRIVER A.N.T., a spinoff on BULLDOG A.N.T.

The centerpiece of BULLDOG A.N.T. — the “dronad,” as he calls it — is detachable. It can be used in the BULLDOG or DRIVER sculptures.

Ever the contrarian, Gillespie’s philosophy could be summed up this way: If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em. And that’s what he’s out to do.

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