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  • Installation image

    Courtesy John Lyall Collection
  • Installation image

    Courtesy John Lyall Collection

Meccano Man: Laconic Constructions

27 March 2010 - 26 June 2010

I have always had Meccano. I got my first set, quite a small one, when I was about five. We already had my father's old Meccano. His was from the 1930's with older wheels, no rubber tyres, and narrow sloping bonnet pieces. It was ideal for making traction engines, travelling gantry cranes, the sort of thing that Meccano makes. As I got older I attempted more ambitious models.
My father had a Depression childhood. Money was short and as his Meccano set was small he made extra pieces from galvanised sheet metal in the farm shed. Decades later my son used it to make a boat, a generic sort of destroyer-ish thing. At the very front, on the prow, was a dull grey triangular piece my father had fabricated

Visiting Edinburgh in the 1990s I went into an antique shop near the Royal Mile. There, in pride of place, was a Meccano construction, a model of a vintage sports car, with steel whitewall tyres, running boards, and elegantly bent plates for mudguards. It sat on top of an open Gladstone bag. I felt around underneath the model, my hand plunging into a rat's nest of ripped catalogues and tattered manuals, and then old Meccano, lots of it! I asked "How much?" The guy said "40 quid!" A lot! But I thought of all the treasure to be revealed and said "O.K." "That's not including the bag!" Well, I did not want a leather Gladstone bag, so I asked for plastic carrier bags. I set about transferring all that steel. It kept coming, handful after handful, some really old, blue with silver diamonds, bits and shapes I had never seen. Too good to be true! Then off I went, a snowy day, the weight cutting off the circulation in my fingers. I walked home, triumphant.

I was working out what to do for Dilana Rugs. Suddenly it came to me. Use actual Meccano pieces, scale them up. Rug as object, with holes, gently three dimensional, relating to that actual red plate, green girder, other bits. Seven different Meccano rugs as a recapitulation of one of the most famous products of Liverpool.

Meccano was developed in Liverpool in 1901 and was for many years known as ‘Junior Engineering'. One of the attractions of Meccano is that it really works - temporary bridges have been constructed of it. Now produced in China and France the latest versions utilise new technologies which are ‘smart' and computer activated. It is still ‘Junior engineering'.

The accompanying images of Meccano models are from old Meccano catalogues and magazines which I have digitally enhanced.

John Lyall