Dead Nuts at the SF Museum of Craft and Design


Take something you use every day but don’t think about much, like the engine of your car. Pop open your hood, take a deep breath, and try not to have your mind blown: every single piece of this big, beautiful thing was machined by a human being. Wild, right?

But not just any human being: a machinist. The machinist uses extreme precision, accuracy, and wild invention to turn people’s ideas into realities, like the aforementioned combustion engine or a massive crane or a circuit board or an old-timey typewriter. Dead Nuts, the current exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Craft & Design, set out to answer a question: what is the ultimate machined object?

There’s historical precedence here, too: this isn’t the first time a museum has looked at machined objects as pieces of beauty. In the early 1930s the Museum of Modern Art in New York famously ran an exhibit called Machine Art (we have the catalog here in the studio!), where everyday objects like a metal spoon or a glass jar were exhibited to throngs of museum-goers. While the MOMA’s exhibit now seems out-dated, the spirit of it lives on in Dead Nuts.

Dead Nuts is showing at the SF Museum of Craft and Design until December 1.

From the exhibit: Some objects represent the primal building blocks of mechanization: the wheel, the lever, the screw. Others are examples of tremendous complication: a Linotype machine, an aircraft engine, a microprocessor. Between these extremes are seemingly humble objects that belie their sophistication but have revolutionized the world. Our global standard of living is built upon these technologies; this exhibition attempts to elucidate what is so special about these objects and why they were proposed as the ultimate machined object/mechanism.