To most of us, toothpicks are little more than a welcome post-prandial prod — the difference between a sparkling smile and a spinach-flecked one. To Scott Weaver, they’re 35 years of his life.
Weaver, a San Francisco artist, has spent the northern part of three decades and some 3,000 hours building a freakishly complex model of his beloved Baghdad by the Bay out of toothpicks — 100,000 of them (and counting).
Incredibly, his is not the world’s largest toothpick sculpture. That honor appears to go to a 292-pound toothpick alligator from Florida named Alley. But Weaver’s is the world’s largest kinetic toothpick sculpture. Rolling Through The Bay, as he calls it, doubles as a sort of marble run. Drop a ping-pong ball into the sculpture and, depending on where and how it falls, it blasts through any of a series of “tours” of the city’s sights and attractions. Observe:
Rolling Through The Bay doubles as a sort of marble run.
Why toothpicks? “Why not?” Weaver has said, as if to suggest that meticulously turning a city into a miniature Six Flags using something most people stick between their teeth was perfectly typical behavior. You’ll note that true to the contrarian spirit of the city, the model doesn’t resemble the actual geography of San Francisco at all. It’s more of a loopy, loping Rube Goldberg vision of San Francisco, some 9 feet tall and 7 feet wide, with Coit Tower and the Transamerica building rising almost equally — impossibly — over the rest of the thing, and the Golden Gate Bridge crouched beneath Chinatown, and the Castro thrown in there somewhere (denoted cutely by a clutch of rainbow-colored toothpicks).
Weaver is a fourth-generation San Franciscan and has built Rolling Through The Bay to highlight the details of his family history. As he throws ping-pong balls down the gauntlet, he points out his personal flourishes: a winery and saloon that his great-grandfather owned near what’s now the Transamerica building; a clock set to the time his son was born; and a heart lodged inside the Palace of Fine Arts made out of toothpicks guests tossed at his wedding.
Weaver is fully aware that he comes off as a raging nutjob, like some sort of love child of Rain Man and Wavy Gravy. “What kind of eccentric idiot would spend thousands of hours making a toothpick sculpture? That’s me!? he has said. But his sculpture is also pretty touching — a sweet if, yes, mildly obsessive, valentine to the city, where so many have left their hearts, Weaver included.
Rolling Through The Bay is on display at the Exploratorium in San Francisco until May 31. More info here.