From Leprechauns to Soap Bubbles: ‘I Reckon a Fella Could Do That’

Posted in Feature, More Stories, Theater and Dance, Visual Art

BY MARTHA McCARTNEY
PHOTO ESSAY BY DAVID WELTON
VIDEOS BY ROBBIE CRIBBS
*See addendum for a sunrise bubble-making session information
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributors
September 3, 2014

When Tom Lindsay was six years old he remembers making a leprechaun out of roof tar. Now he makes bubbles. Once you know his story you’ll see a definite design trajectory.

Lindsay was born in the hot flatland of west Texas into an extremely supportive and encouraging family. His maternal grandfather, “Papaw,” had a tremendous impact on the way Lindsay solves problems.

Tom Lindsay, age 10, at work in his grandfather's workshop  (photo courtesy of Tom Lindsay)

Tom Lindsay, age 10, at work in the family workshop (photo courtesy of Tom Lindsay)

“Papaw and I would go into our family shop—it was small and narrow, a converted chicken coop—where we tinkered with all sorts of things and he taught me how to use tools. There was a buckboard-seat bench where he would sit and watch me. I remember one day it was so hot that his glasses were steamed up and I told him he didn’t need to stay, he could go into the house. He shook his head and said ‘You are a boy after my own heart.’”

“Papaw always bought Craftsman tools—‘has to be Craftsman’—he’d say. One day we were at the hardware store and saw a drill press. I can still recall the smell of it. I asked Papaw if we could make one and he answered ‘I reckon a fella could do that.’ That was his answer to a lot of my questions. We did build one, but instead of the drill lowering as usual, we rigged up a hydraulic car jack to raise the piece to be drilled.” From that time forward, Lindsay explained, he was able to see things from a different point of view.

An opalescent sphere rests on the water's surface  (photo by Martha McCartney)

An opalescent sphere rests on the water’s surface (photo by Martha McCartney)

The Lindsays moved from Texas to California when he was seven. He continued school and graduated from Stanford. For a time he worked in the solar industry and then in electronics. He invented and patented an electromagnetic shielding gasket that was sold to manufacturers of computers and telecommunication equipment. Later, he became Director of Exhibits at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose.

One of the largest tasks during that time was the complete demolition of the existing water exhibit, which, Lindsay explained, needed a new look and updating regarding methods for keeping the water free from bacteria. Lindsay, with a team of highly skilled designers, successfully installed the current interactive exhibit called “Water Ways,” one of the most imaginative in the country. Throughout his working life, he seems to have utilized an “I-reckon-a-fella-could-do-that” ingenuity.

Even though a bubble room was included as part of the exhibit at the Museum, Lindsay recalled an earlier experience with bubbles that he thinks may have started his fascination. On a camping trip to the Sierras he wore a huge backpack while pushing a jogging stroller loaded with his son, an inflatable raft and a bubble-making kit. “I took the raft originally because it was the only way I could get [my son] settled down to go to sleep,” Lindsay said, “but then I also knew there was a lake. It was a place I had been before.”

He described what happened out on the lake as surreal. The large iridescent bubbles floated out over the still water and then—instead of bursting as he expected—they ricocheted lightly, drifted back up into the breeze and then finally settled, resting for moments before bursting. The raft was surrounded by mystical opalescent gazing balls reflecting the sky. He and his son were enchanted.

As things tend to do—life moving in circular paths—Lindsay is now a grandfather. Remembering how the bubbles had entranced his son at the lake, he wanted to share this with his young granddaughter and so he set out on a quest to make bubbles.

Lindsay is the kind of guy who is compelled to rework systems and processes. He wanted to make big bubbles—really big bubbles—and lots of them.

Lindsay has learned to make bubbles and he paints the wind  (photo by Martha McCartney)

Lindsay has learned to make bubbles and he paints the wind in Coupeville (photo by Martha McCartney)

The most widely used method for making large bubbles involves dipping the strings—“wicking”—into soap solution. Bubbles and bubble tubes can be made for only a few seconds, until the solution dries. Some bubblers are experimenting with a “no dip” method that pumps the soap to the wicks but, Lindsay said, it didn’t work as well as he wanted.

After hours of research and experimentation he built a bubble system with a pressurized pouch housed in a backpack that feeds into manually controllable hollow wands to soak the wicking in a continuous stream. The bubble solution is made of bio-degradable dish soap and a mixture of food-grade products. He has dubbed this method “bubble streaming.”

Lindsay weaves his bubble wands  (photo by David Welton)

Lindsay weaves his bubble wands (photo by David Welton)

Not only can the soap be continuously fed to the wicking, the operator is completely mobile. This system provides the ability to move around while creating streams of bubbles. Freedom of movement has made it possible to influence the shapes and sizes of the bubbles coming from the wands. It is possible that bubble making may now evolve into an art form incorporating dance, music, photography—there are many potentialities.

Lindsay in the Langley Harbor at sunrise  (photo by David Welton)

Lindsay in the Langley Harbor at sunrise (photo by David Welton)

Watching the process is mesmerizing. The shapes and swirling colors are stunning. The wind currents pull and elevate the bubbles into an ethereal ballet of sensuous movement. So much is dependent upon the landscape, which takes on the role of backdrop and changes the reflections on each surface.

All of this to say: wow–this is amazingly beautiful and fun to watch.

Lindsay captures the Langley Harbor shoreline  (photo by David Welton)

Lindsay tries to capture the Langley Harbor shoreline (photo by David Welton)

Tom Lindsay Designs (tomelindsay@gmail.com) is located in Freeland at the Freeland Art Studios, and from his workshop—now better equipped and larger than a chicken coop—he designs and builds water installations for children’s museums located throughout the country. Providence Children’s Museum in Rhode Island just recently received water features from Lindsay.

Lindsay at work on a water installation for a children’s museum    (photo by David Welton)

Lindsay at work on a water installation for a children’s museum in his studio (photo by David Welton)

Tom Lindsay will be painting the wind with bubbles in Langley during the first annual “Arts Alive” event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 13. “Arts Alive” is a showcase of artists who will provide demonstrations throughout the town of Langley.

You really do not want to miss this.

*Tom Lindsay will do a special “sunrise” session making bubbles as an introduction to ‘Arts Alive’ on Sept. 13 at 6:30 a.m. at the Langley Harbor. Throughout the day he’ll be making more bubbles, weather permitting, at Seawall Park.

Langley Harbor at sunrise  framed by a Tom Lindsay bubble stream (photo by David Welton)

Langley Harbor at sunrise framed by a Tom Lindsay bubble stream (photo by David Welton)

The bubble-creating experience with Tom was captured in two videos by local artist and videographer Robbie Cribbs of Sound Trap Studios.

Interview with Tom Lindsay video link:  http://youtu.be/3JEgGymPLUY

Streaming Soap Bubbles tn

This second video is short film, “The Sacred Life of Bubbles” of the bubbles at sunrise at the Langley Harbor:

“Sacred Life” video link: http://youtu.be/AfM6-9WXJiU

S 2 Thumnail

Both videos were shot, edited, and produced by Robbie Cribbs.

Image at top: Tom Lindsay waves his arms and magic happens.  (photo by Martha McCartney)

Martha is a poet, photographer, mixed-media artist, persistent gardener and candle-maker. She has never really gotten over not being photographed for a Richard Brautigan book cover. Currently she is learning to navigate by using her inner compass, which she keeps pointed towards her own true north.

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