Wednesday 20 January 2010

Keeping the Gallery ticking

When I arrive at the home of horologist Michael Cryns a strange new world opens up as ticking, cuckooing and chiming emanates from every wall and corner within his Henderson based home. Arms wave and pendulums swing as Michael welcomes me in to explain his history with clocks and his specific interest in our Auckland Art Gallery clock.

Tell me how you came to be a horologist (clockmaker/repairer)?
I started out with a degree in mechanical engineering, working on power stations for the electricity department. Later on, due to some health issues, I had to give it up. Then, while I was taking it easy, a friend of my parents, who was a watchmaker and repairer, asked me to help him out. I enjoyed it a lot and was very grateful to him for teaching me as much as he did. He did an apprenticeship in Holland and passed on some great knowledge on clocks. Then after finishing the work he had for me, I put an advert in a paper as a Clock Repairer and got a good response. Including an antique dealer who gave me work for a year – really good work. That’s how it all started. Around this time I read all the books in the Auckland library about clocks and still study and soak up any book on horology that turns up.

How did you come to maintain the Auckland Art Gallery clock? One day, around 21 years ago, I was in the city and I heard the Gallery’s clock chiming incorrectly. A couple of bells were not working out of the 5. I thought that wasn’t very good and rang up the council. I found someone interested who asked me to go and take a look at the clock. I reported on a fallen ladder that was jamming the bell linkages. Then, they asked me to repair it, which I did and from then on I have been involved in looking after the clock. In the past, the electricians who worked in the Art Gallery would call me if anything went wrong.

What other clocks do you work on in the city? I also work on the Town Hall clock and work on the Ponsonby clock with a clock colleague. All the clocks are from a similar period, 1890 to 1910. However, the Gallery clock is the only one made in New Zealand.

So, tell me more about the history of the Gallery’s clock? The clock was made in Wellington New Zealand in 1894 by a company called Littlejohn & Sons. William Littlejohn was born in Scotland and learnt clock making before emigrating to New Zealand in 1879 accompanied by his son Alexander Ironside. They made many of the turret clocks for the country's Post Office towers. The bells of the clock were not made in New Zealand, as this was a very specialised job, so they came from Loughborough in England.

Have you been working on the clock during the gallery development? Yes, and there is more maintenance and upgrade work to do, but in the meantime I didn’t want the clock to run mechanically with all the building work going on and the dirt and dust as it can damage the moving parts. Instead, just before Christmas, I fitted a temporary electric drive to keep the clock running, but without chimes. Also, I have been requesting some upgrades to the clock peripherals, which have been agreed to in the lead up to the opening of the new building which is great. The clock is of real historical significance. There are not many of its type and age, made in New Zealand, left. Apart from the electrically-driven winding, it is all original. I want to make sure it gets the profile and care it needs.

You are surrounded by clocks every day, but do you have a favourite? Yes that one over there, the one with no hands. It's an old German made clock that I am working on at the moment. The maker is Winterhalder and Hoffmier and it’s from around 1890, a solid mantle clock.

And finally, what’s your favourite thing about looking after clocks? My favourite thing about working with clocks is the mechanical element. Anything mechanical absolutely fascinates me. I get to work on mechanical things and get paid for it!

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