A New Side Project: Pinball in Seattle

Author: robertinseattle
Robert Pinball

Pinball at the office in 2000!

Well, I had no idea that Seattle was such a pinball center when my kids and I first moved here back in ’97. But when we expanded my startup into our large office spaces in ’99 during that first dot-com boom, one of the fun things my CFO and I decided to do was set up a small pinball arcade room. All those young kids had their foosball tables and ping pong tables in their startup offices. But hey – we were older guys and we wanted some more serious classic stuff for everyone to enjoy! So we ended up building a glassed-in soundproof arcade room right off our front lobby, much to the amusement of our visitors.

Way back in the early 70’s, I actually owned an arcade for a year or so in between gigs. And it was not only fun but turned out to be a relatively lucrative little business. Not as much because my arcade was busy every weekend but because of the first big run on silver at that time. A lot of younger people won’t know this but a large majority of our coins back then were minted with real silver and copper. It wasn’t until later that the cost of these coins became too expensive to use pure silver and copper so the mints all over the world have now been using cheaper alloys to make our coins (and the actual cost of materials is still a lot more than the face value of the coin itself in many instances). But back in the early 70, most silver coins were over 95% pure silver and a silver dollar was just that: a silver dollar! So a month or so into running my arcade, I decided to start sifting through all my quarters and was shocked to realize how many pre-1965 quarters were in each machine! I was doubling and tripling my take as the silver value of those quarters kept rising. But unfortunately as more collectors started realizing that even old and worn quarters were worth twice their face value or more, the supply started thinning down quickly. Gradually in less than a year, my arcade became a whole lot less profitable and it was time to start a new business.

Among my favorite machines was Gottlieb’s Magnotron from back in the 70’s. I’d first run into Magnotron back in Paris during a semi-retirement phase in ’74. A lot of my time was spent painting and writing and it was while living in Paris that I first came across this just-released machine at an arcade close to my fifth floor walkup studio on the Left Bank. It seems there were thousands of pinball machines all over Paris, in the bars and cafés and just about anywhere you could squeeze one into a corner. I made a lot of new friends playing pinball. And it was in Paris that I found my inspiration to start a new series of high-realism paintings on man and his machines, specifically machines that you put money into and received something in return. What better first piece than my beloved pinball machines? It was in Fall of 1974 when I started painting Magnotron and Sky Jump, working from some drawings and photographic studies taken at this Parisian arcade. I still remember carrying this half-finished canvas on board an Air Canada flight headed back home to Toronto after living in Paris for 10 months. In those days, we had no T&A Security or baggage restrictions; one of the stewardesses simply put my painting into one of the coat closets up front for me to retrieve as I got off the flight in Toronto. I ended up finishing that painting along with several others while I was living in a shared studio/living space with three other artists in the warehouse district in downtown Toronto.

My Magnotron

My Magnotron after the fire.

Then back in ’99, I actually found a Magnotron machine at the long-departed Ruby Montana’s in downtown Seattle. This became a welcome addition to our house in Clyde Hill during my run with UTM Systems where we had that company pinball arcade. We racked up a lot of games on that machine but this is want happened to my beloved Magnotron after a suspicious housefire in November 2002 wiped out almost everything we owned. That fire was monumentally coincidental one month after we closed the company down because some crooked employees attempted to steal our technology through a fraudulent bankruptcy claim against my company.

Anyway, fast-forward to today: Over the past year, I’ve been really surprised to discover that Seattle is a world pinball capitol. Charlie and Cindy Martin opened the Seattle Pinball Museum on Maynard St. in Chinatown in 2011 and it’s now become a permanent center for pinball lovers of all ages. It was Charlie who enlightened me about the popularity of pinball here in the Pacific Northwest; you’ve got geeks with lots of money and a love for gadgets, you’ve got rich jocks from football, baseball and soccer teams with man caves in their big houses with personal arcades and you’ve even got lots of older Boeing engineers with a love for all things mechanical. A perfect storm for pinball lovers! In some of my conversations with people like Charlie, I talked about my pinball painting and tossed around an idea of using crowdfunding to buy a large-format printer to knock out actual-size signed, limited edition canvas reproductions of my pinball painting. I was completely surprised at all the reactions and encouragement I’ve received so far. So I’m in the process of completing a short video to help with my launch and this blog post is one way of checking out how all my friends feel about such a project. I’m going to need help from people in my networks to get the word out so I can meet the minimum donations needed to make my crowdfunding campaign successful. While this personal art project isn’t going to be a huge fundraise, I’m actually also using this opportunity to test the waters out for some larger future campaigns for more techie projects. I hope all my friends and connections will help me get the word out!

To make things even more interesting, a couple of weeks ago, this story caught my eye on Seattle’s KOMO 4 News: Meet Cayle George, pinball wizard:
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And also from KOMO News – Tech-savvy Seattle has growing pinball subculture:
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And from 2012 – Bainbridge Island man to host world pinball champion tournament:
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And from KING 5 News last year: An autistic pinball wizard.
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And here’s a video on the Magnotron machine itself:
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And oh yeah – almost forgot! Here’s a picture of Magnotron and Sky Jump from many years back, taken long before that fire. This will be what I’m going to reproduce full-size on actual stretched canvas – approx. 36″ x 29″. (Fortunately, I have high-res slides of many of my pieces from years past because several of my paintings were damaged in that housefire of 2002.)

PinBall

It took days of following archival cleaning techniques to get as much soot and discoloration from all my paintings and they no longer have to vivid colors they once had. But with today’s technology, I’m now looking to produce high quality reproductions on real canvas to sell to the pinball community in Seattle and beyond. So I hope all of my friends will consider following and sharing my posts and crowdfunding campaign to help me make this a total success. Watch for more news on the campaign over the next two weeks! With your help, I’m also hoping to then follow up with more canvas reproductions of many of my other pieces from over the years once I have my new big-ass printer up and running!
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