Jennifer George is a jewelry designer in New York City. She makes unique pieces using found objects and vintage beads and jewelry. (See Jennifer’s work here.) She also happens to be the granddaughter of legendary cartoonist and inventor, Rube Goldberg. If you’re not familiar with the machines that are named after him, check out this collection of Rube Goldberg machines that others have made to get an inkling of the whimsical contraptions he’s known for. (Or see his work here.)
Jennifer recently completed a coffee table book about her grandfather’s work,The Art of Rube Goldberg. The book has been seven years in the making, and comes out this week.
Jennifer and I recently discussed the making of the book, her grandfather’s legacy, and what it means to be in a creative family.
Everybody’s Invited!: Why did you want to write this book?
Jennifer George: It began seven years ago, maybe more, when my father was still alive. He was running my grandfather’s businesses. There hadn’t been a quintessential, major book on Rube since he was alive. My father was approached by Charlie Kochman, the head of Abrams ComicArts, to rectify this!
The book was green-lit the day before my father’s funeral, so it was a bittersweet moment. But it fell into my lap. It wasn’t something I had always dreamed of doing, nor had I ever envisioned putting in the countless hours that I put in on this book. But you know what? It’s been an amazing journey.
I knew my grandfather the way you know your grandfather. He was Papa Rube. His cartoons were all over our den when I was growing up, and I didn’t even read them! They were part of the furniture. I didn’t know him as Rube Goldberg. There was a big learning curve for me while curating this book. I got to know the man my grandfather was.
EI!: What surprised you about working on this book?
JG: The sheer volume of material. It was extraordinary. To put it into perspective, Charles Schulz did 18,000 drawings in his lifetime. Rube did 50,000. I only went through about 13,000 cartoons. We had enough material to do dozens of books.
EI!: I love Rube Goldberg machines. To me it seems like your grandfather was saying that if you use technology to simplify life, it can backfire.
JG: I think that’s one of the things he was saying. He wasn’t always the biggest fan of technology. Remember, when he was creating stuff, it was at the dawn of the industrial revolution. Think about a toaster. If you look at the myriad of crazy toasters—just to make a piece of toast! He believed that part of any design process should be simplification. Go through your plans and take out everything that’s extraneous. He thought good design meant utter simplicity, and he really believed that we overcomplicate our lives constantly.
Look at the Segway. God only knows how he would have spoofed on that! I mean, we have feet! We can walk. Here we are trying to get places quicker and suddenly the thing shoots you off a cliff! I think that’s what happened to the poor guy who invented it.
EI!: He also seems to also be making a statement about the journey being more important than the destination.
JG: You got it. Absolutely. You might think to yourself, “Oh, why did I have to go through this heartbreak or this bump in the road?” But if you put all the pieces of your life together, you’re meant to be where you are right now. Things happen for a reason. All of the little pieces go together to make you, you.
EI!: Did the experience of writing the book change you at all?
JG: Ironically, I think it’s made me more serious. I haven’t had time to stop and smell the roses. I am having a good time, though.
EI!: Do you have a favorite cartoon or machine?
JG: In terms of inventions, I love the ones that are wearable. There’s one that’s called How to Not Forget to Mail Your Wife’s Letter. It’s this giant rigmarole contraption that attaches to this guy’s waist, and goes out for I don’t know how many feet, and comes back and eventually reminds him to mail his wife’s letter.
EI: Halloween costume idea!
EI!: From the outside it seems that your family is extraordinarily creative and quirky. Does it feel that way from the inside?
JG: Yes. My dad produced My Dinner with Andre, at a time when producing a movie like that was insane. Some people see elements of Rube in my jewelry—I use found objects, and I try to incorporate a sense of humor. My son and daughter seem to be carrying on the tradition. Max is the editor of the humor newspaper at Oberlin, and Emily just won a filmmaking prize at a high school film festival in New York City.
You know, if my kids had come to me and said, “I want to be a lawyer,” I think I would have fallen off my chair. But when they say they want to be a writer or a filmmaker…well, that I can understand.
EI!: What do you want people to know about your grandfather?
JG: I want them to know that he was a real person. A lot of times people say, “Was there really a Rube Goldberg?” Yep, he wasn’t just an adjective! Another thing, he did more than just inventions. His archive is deep and full and funny. And while I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, or Rube Goldberg for that matter, I do want people to see the gamut of what he created and the book does just that. For decades his imagination was on fire! He had the ability to make people laugh at themselves, at the human condition. This is why his work is still relevant today.
The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius is available on Amazon.
Selected and with commentary by Jennifer George; Introduction by Adam Gopnik
Published by Abrams ComicArts
Rube Works, a mobile game for iOS and Android, also comes out this month.