Switchboard Art, the gift that keeps giving.

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I am a visual artist and a professional photographer, with a background in commercial photography and graphic design. I have been creating switchboard art professionally since 1983 and have sold over 20,000 pieces of my artwork worldwide.

I’m also the author of The Switchboard Art Gallery, a book that covers the creative process behind making switchboard art and has information on where to buy this unique art form.

My work is created using an ordinary telephone switchboard as an artistic medium. I use colored wires, plugs, hardware and other telephone parts to create both 2-D images and 3-D sculptures. I take great care in photographing each piece from every angle to assure that you can see all sides of it fully in the photograph that you receive.”

We all know that it is far better to give than to receive. But when it comes to gifts, sometimes the giver has as much fun as the recipient.

This little story about switchboard art is for those of us who like to give – but who also like what we get in return.

The idea for this story was inspired by a blog post from Joel Spolsky about Microsoft Windows 3.1, and the pictures he found hidden in its code (I stole it from him). If you want to see just how much fun someone had with the early versions of their software, you should go read his piece on this subject. And after you do that, come back here and finish reading mine.

This is a story about giving gifts that make people happy, and that keep on making people happy long after they’re unwrapped. It’s a story about how little things can lead to big things. It’s a story about beauty and art, and how they can change the world even if no one sees them.

Speaking of no one seeing things, let me say thank you to all of my readers who have been with me since the beginning of this series; I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed writing it! Thank you

The Artist is a Switchboard Operator who, when not busy taking incoming calls and routing them to the employees who handle the department that services the caller’s need, spends her time creating art on the many switchboards throughout the company. The intent of this program is to create an outlet for artistic creativity while performing duties that are generally considered to be non-creative in nature, and to bring recognition to those talented individuals who work behind the scenes in a corporation whose main focus is Telecommunication.

The first Artist was hired by AT&T in 1973 as part of a nationwide program intended to improve morale and provide a creative outlet for their employees. Since then, hundreds of Artists have been employed at local telephone companies throughout North America. Each person is uniquely talented, yet all share the same joy of creating art on electronic equipment. Many pieces are sold with proceeds going directly to the artist or, if they choose, benefiting a charity of their choice. For more information on how you can purchase one of these original works of art, please contact your local telephone company or visit our website at www.switchboardart.org .

A family friend of mine designed a series of intricate switchboard panels in the 1940s. They were beautiful. My grandmother had one, my mother has two, and many more are scattered around the country.

The panels consist of a large frame with a hinged door that swings open to reveal dozens of light sockets, each containing a colored glass bulb. The artist chose various shades of color and arranged them on the bulbs in pleasing patterns. When the switchboard is closed, it is simply lovely to look at.

But when you open it up, something amazing happens: It turns into a kaleidoscope! That’s because when you rotate the frame, it changes the alignment of the bulbs. Rotate the frame again, and it becomes something different!

I visited my mother recently and opened one of her panels to find out what kind it was. It turned out to be one I had never seen before—the back panel was transparent rather than opaque. I had no idea such a thing existed.

In the early days of telephones, when a person wanted to connect with another person in a distant city, he or she had to engage an operator to make the connection. In New York City, for example, calls from Manhattan to other cities were connected by operators who worked on what was called the “Manhattan Switchboard.”

In those days there were no private or business phone lines. All calls were made through an operator. The only phones in people’s homes were “candlestick” phones that weren’t plugged into anything. It wasn’t until after 1910 that people started putting phones in their homes and wiring them so they could make local calls without an operator.

The female switchboard operators became famous for their staccato voices and their lightning-fast fingers as they connected calls around the world.

But it was the way they decorated their switchboards that made them famous. You see, every time they connected a call they would tuck a little ad card into a switchboard cubbyhole to remind them where it went. And as more and more cubbyholes filled up, they began to put the cards on top of each other until they created collages of hearts and flowers and religious symbols covering practically every inch of surface space on their boards.

Most of the time, you have to make your own fun. But if you are a techie who has access to a large number of telephone lines and modems, you can do an interesting experiment in public performance art.

The trick is to get your computer set up so that every time someone calls one of your lines, the call is automatically forwarded to a series of other numbers. You can then log into these machines remotely and leave recorded messages for the people who call them. Those messages will be played back when someone calls the original number. It’s like having a robotic answering machine that plays back the answers at random.

So here’s the plan. You write some interesting code, put it on all your machines, and start advertising that your phone number goes to an automatic forwarding service which plays back your recorded messages.

Modify this idea as appropriate for your local conditions: for example, use a modem-based pager service instead of regular phone lines, or play back music instead of messages. If you do this sort of thing at work, be sure it doesn’t violate any policy regarding telephone use or misuse; a lot of companies have policies that say they own all the telephones in their buildings and can listen to them whenever they want to check out rumors

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