The Making of a Chairlift

When I started planning Stories From Scarborough, back in late 2013, one of the first ideas I had was to make a wearable chairlift.

Above: Design for a wearable chairlift (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

The bright red chairlifts, that took passengers from Scarborough North Bay to Marvel’s Amusement Park in the 1980s and 1990s (and to Scarborough Zoo in the 1970s), remain vividly in my memory. As a child, it was incredibly thrilling to travel at what then seemed like a great height towards an exciting-looking fairground.

Above: Family photograph of the chairlift (from the author’s personal collection)

However, constructing such a structure is by no means a straightforward task, especially for someone with little expertise in making big 3D objects.

My first task was to understand the shape.

Above: Drawing the chairlift (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

I made lots of drawings – at the time I didn’t have any red pens or pencils to hand, so used some red electrical tape that I happened to come across.

Fortunately the colour was just right!

After making the drawings I constructed some crude models using cardboard, tape, wire – any materials I could find really. Following considerable frustration and research I decided to make the frame using withies – often used in the construction of lanterns. I wanted something that was lightweight and malleable, but also reasonably strong.

The original chairlifts would likely have been made from fibreglass or something similarly robust. Alas, my budget does not allow for such extravagant spending! Nor will my chairlift be required to carry passengers at great heights.

Above: Withies, masking tape, wire and string (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Rather than attempt the complex shape of the top from the outset, I settled for a simple cone-like form, over which I could then add further layers. Following this I covered the form in newspaper to get a better sense of the shape.

Above: The top – with newspaper (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

With a better sense of the shape I added a thin layer of modroc, more newspaper and then, in a surprising twist, red electrical tape!

Above: Adding the tape (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

After the serendipitous success of the tape on my drawings, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t use the tape to create an interesting cover to my chairlift. 100% accuracy was never my aim in making this object – I simply wanted to create a likeness, with my own weird creative stamp on it.

Above: The two halves (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Many rolls of red tape later, I had two halves of a chairlift. Using garden canes attached to the bottom, I created a frame onto which the top could sit. Trouble was, the top didn’t want to sit in place – I spent a great deal of time messing with parcel tape (my newest solution to securing fragile joins) and pulling pieces apart before deciding to keep the top and bottom separate for transport purposes – I’m in Manchester right now and need to get this thing to Scarborough somehow this summer. And I don’t own a car.

Above: Trying out the costume (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Luckily I could hold the whole thing up as a costume without too much difficulty. All that remained was a great deal of tidying up, taping and securing bits and pieces. In the meantime I was also thinking about other uses for the chairlift (besides the costume idea).

Above: A new idea? (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

I imagined suspending the chairlift somewhere as an exhibition piece/sculpture – I could attach things to it, like memories of Marvel’s or references to former use of the site (it was once a zoo, and before that tennis courts…I’ve also heard rumours of a roller skating area).

Above: The chairlift as a sculpture/exhibition piece (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

In the end I attached balloons to the top. Just because.

I’ll be exhibiting a version of this in Manchester this June, as a sort of public introduction to the project.

When I arrive in Scarborough I hope to do this with it:

To see more of my art work, including previous projects, please visit my website and art blog.

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12 thoughts on “The Making of a Chairlift

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