They're Not Just Toys, They're Kinetic Art

Tom Brunner is by turns a sculptor, inventor, toy-maker and cobbler. But whatever his trade of the moment, he melds physics and practicality with unbridled fun -- from a quirky, human-powered amusement ride to a 180-pound bicycle made of raw, bent steel.

Considering his multiple career shifts -- from competitive skier and landscaper to bike mechanic and chef de cuisine -- Brunner has had no problem finding projects to which to apply his talents. His most recent job is as a cobbler at The Blue Sole at 218 Main St.

"I'm always trying to learn," said Brunner. "I really love creating things, and I love this kind of work."

Brunner moved to Sandpoint two years ago with his wife, Patty, and two daughters. They came from Reno, where he attended the University of Nevada, majoring in sculpting and minoring in physics.

Brunner said his interests lie somewhere between being a sculptor and an engineer. "I have an artistic approach to most things," he says, "because there's an artistic value to everything, even in raking dirt. But there's also a practical application to most of the things I make."

The first local display of his creative talents was at last year's Schweitzer's Carribean Carnival, where he set up his Merry-Totter -- a six-person ride with carved, wooden saddles padded with denim and upholstery. Riders had the chance to zip around at near-nauseating speeds in a merry-go-round fashion, while gaining momentum by pushing off the ground with their feet, as they would on a teeter-totter.

Another Brunner creation, "Mad Maxx," is an oversized bike with three-quarter-inch rebar handlebars, one-inch solid steel axles, diamond-plate pedals with reversible toe-clips and a drive train made from the door of a walk-in kiln. The rideable sculpture was displayed last summer at the Bonner County Historical Museum's bicycle exhibit.

Long-range, Brunner would like to create an amusement park with people-powered rides like the Merry-Totter. Nearer term, he's starting a part-time enterprise this summer, manufacturing his interactive playground toys for sale to schools or other organizations with playgrounds. One of the first toys he'll be offering is the Merry-Totter. To contact him about his playground creations, call 263-5679. Or hoof it on over to The Blue Sole.

-- Nann Alleman

Back to Contents Page - 1996 Summer Sandpoint Magazine