Skip to Main Content

Michael Roundy Sets Sculpture in Motion

Art Department Faculty Member Brings Engineered Fun to Lowell

Jay Hungate steers his contraption during Lowell first kinetic sculpture race.
Lowell-based Iconic Flying Fish and driver Jay Hungate feed off the crowd’s support at the first annual Kinetic Sculpture Race.

By David Perry

Michael Roundy has been a visiting lecturer at UMass Lowell for 14 years, but on a Saturday in late September, he got to know the fabric of the Mill City even better.

Roundy and a team of organizers (headed by Bianca Mauro, who has run tours for Michael Buble and Britney Spears), plus more than 50 volunteers, put together Lowell’s first kinetic sculpture race. More than 3,500 people showed up to watch eight teams race wild contraptions from Lowell’s downtown, through a mud pit and, eventually, into the Merrimack River.  Students, faculty and alumni took part as race participants, judges, volunteers and spectators.

In the end, Cheetah-Cheetah, a team from Baltimore headed by high school junior David Clement, won.

“It was hard for people to wrap their heads around such a crazy idea,” said Roundy, who teaches classes ranging from Drawing 1 to The Creative Process. “It was something they had never heard of or seen before.”

Roundy, however, has been a fan of kinetic sculpture racing for decades.

Q. How did you first hear of kinetic sculpture racing?

A. While living in a small town in northern California (Arcata), attending Humboldt State University, I witnessed seven of the Grand Kinetic Championships, the original race. The race was created by a metal sculptor named Hobart Brown in 1969. He added a few extra wheels onto his son’s tricycle. A few of his artist friends saw what he’d done and challenged him to a race down [the] main street in Ferndale, a couple of towns south of Arcata.  The race has continued since and is now a three-day contest covering more than 40 miles, with more than 60 teams competing every year.

Q. What draws you to it?

A. I come from a long line of do-it-yourselfers, fixing, building and making things as well as being an artist, having received my terminal degree (MFA) in painting from Pratt Institute in New York. I also appreciate the crossing of science, art and performance. The race covers all of these and more, reaching into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) with the added bonus of art, making it STEAM.

Q. What drew so many to it in Lowell?

A. The race is truly a wild scene that allows spectators of all ages to feel as though they are part of all the activities. They can receive “bribes” from teams (giveaways that teams make in hope of garnering support for the People’s Choice Award), and spectators also had the opportunity to see up close these tremendous feats of engineering and art during the Meet The Teams session before the race, or later at Sampas Pavilion while racers prepared for their water entry.

Q. How did students and faculty get involved?

A. Many students participated. Mousetrap, the large, hamster wheel-looking contraption, was loaned to us from a kinetic lab in Oregon and was run by a team of four students, mostly from the Art & Design Department. Two students were part of a four-person sculpture, the Kraken. Team Enter the Dragon(fly) included a freshman art and design student.

Two faculty members participated. Tim DeVoe, who teaches sculpture, served as what we call Mad Marshal. These are the folks who follow teams around to make sure they are following the rules and being safe. Assoc. Prof. Ellen Wetmore served as Kinetic Royalty, which is what we call our judges. City Councilor Corey Belanger and local radio personality and Athenian Corner owner Teddy Panos also served as judges. Lowell Mayor Edward Kennedy was also there to officially start the race.

Q. Where did the teams come from?

A. We had three teams from Lowell (Iconic Flying Fish, Midnight Machine, Kinetic Duck) and one from Dracut (Think Tank). We had two sculptures loaned to us. Mousetrap was mailed in two boxes from Corvallis, Oregon. Another, The Kraken Upcycle, was on loan from Baltimore. Enter the Dragon(fly) is from Canterbury, N.H. The winner, Cheetah-Cheetah, is also from Baltimore.

Q. Is this going to be an annual event in Lowell?

A. This is most definitely going to be an annual event.  Next year’s race is scheduled for Sept. 23. The success of the first year and the support from the city of Lowell as well as UMass Lowell and a number of local organizations (sponsors included the Department of Art & Design, the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau and others) have solidified this event as one we hope will continue to grow and become a tradition in this creative and dynamic city we call home.