Set in motion

Meet the artist behind Reno’s kinetic lamppost sculptures

David Boyer is the artist behind Reno’s kinetic lamppost sculptures.

David Boyer is the artist behind Reno’s kinetic lamppost sculptures.


David Boyer moved to Reno from Southern California in 1995. The following year, he was one of about 50 million people who bought a ticket to the film Twister. The film dramatizes the work of a team of storm chasers.

One character has an aunt who makes kinetic wind sculptures.

“There were all these big, funky, turning, moving things out front of her house,” said Boyer. “I remember at the time thinking, ’That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I wanna someday have my house decorated like that.’”

And as you drive up to Boyer’s home in South Reno, what do you see in the front yard? As you might have guessed—big, funky, turning, moving things.

Boyer started making kinetic wind sculptures in 1998, using some old springs and cans he found while exploring Nevada’s vast open spaces.

He said building “things that look like they belong out in the sagebrush,” things that “could be mistaken for old mining artifacts” is what he loves best and gravitates to.

“This piece I did for Burning Man last year, you could stick that in the middle of a ghost town somewhere,” Boyer said. “It has the big pipes and flanges, and it has a very old-school flavor to it.”

“Old-school” might be one way to describe it, but retro-futuristic would probably be more accurate. With a huge rust-colored trunk and tin paddles that resemble leaves catching the wind and spinning metallic branches, the piece is pretty much a steampunk version of the Madagascan baobab tree.

Currently, Boyer is in discussions with Truckee Meadows Community College about the purchase of this piece.

While the steampunk baobab tree, titled “Macchina Naturale,” may better reflect Boyer’s personal style, much of his financial success draws from his public art contracts. He said these public art works tend to be modern, shinier and more colorful.

Cities like Seattle and San Diego have commissioned Boyer for this type of work, but it was the City of Reno that catalyzed his public art career in 2003, when it commissioned him to build 63 sculptures to be fitted on the lampposts downtown. It was also this contract with the city that allowed for Boyer to do art full-time. He said the exposure gave him credibility when applying for other projects in different cities.

“Reno started really embracing public art right when I moved here,” he said. And Boyer’s lamppost sculptures were well received. “For my very first art project, to have everybody just love ’em—that felt really good,” he said.

He also said it feels really good just to be a part of the public art movement in general—and understandably so.

Next summer, Boyer is scheduled to install a permanent public piece that incorporates sound for the city of Peoria, Arizona. The sculpture is for a park currently under construction and will include seven abstract, mechanical birds that each chime a bell of a different tone as the wind spins them.

Upkeep plans

Some cities, like Seattle, have quotas specifying how much of city capital improvement project funds must be spent on public art, said Boyer.

In Seattle, according to the city government website, one percent of the funds available for these projects must be set aside for the commission, purchase and installation of public art. The city also uses these funds to maintain and restore artworks. Seattle’s public art program has been in place since 1973.

Here in Reno, there is a 2 percent-for-art ordinance, which specifies that 2 percent of the funding of any new construction or renovation by the city has to be set aside for public art. The program funded by this ordinance is managed by the Reno Arts & Culture Commission.

Megan Berner, the city’s public art program coordinator, said that ordinance usually brings in about $50,000 a year, which, she said, is not that much. The dragonfly sculpture, installed off the shoreline of Virginia Lake in February, cost about $50,000 itself, said Berner. But money also comes from a room tax, she added, so some of the funds are not from Reno citizens but tourists.

That $50,000 figure does not include maintenance, which is also provided for by the 2 percent capital improvements ordinance. However, long-term maintenance has not been provided for on existing artwork such as Boyer’s, which has been in place for about 15 years.

Because there are no funds set aside for maintenance, the Arts & Culture Commission, along with the Riverwalk Merchants Association, had been planning a fundraiser, originally scheduled for July 19. Funds raised were to be used restore Boyer’s downtown lamppost sculptures. Some of them are damaged, and some are beyond repair, so Boyer said he would take parts from the ruined sculptures to fix the damaged ones and then construct about 10 new ones to fill the voids left. However, that fundraiser was recently cancelled. Boyer cited too much competition with Artown events—but said the fundraiser will likely be rescheduled for some time in September.