R.G. LeTourneau Inspires Artist

R.G. LeTourneau’s name will always be synonymously associated with invention and engineering. His ingenuity and work ethic has served as a model for many entrepreneurs and engineers over the years.

Now his inventions are even inspiring art.

R.G. LeTourneau’s professional life started quite humbly. Having little interest in formal education, he left school at fourteen to work as an apprentice at East Portland Iron Works. With an adept mind and quick learning skills, LeTourneau moved through a number of jobs, including mining, carpentry, vehicle maintenance and welding. With each new job, he gained understanding and experience with machinery and manufacturing that would later inform his designs for earthmoving equipment that earned him worldwide recognition.

During the 1920s, LeTourneau started his own manufacturing business and began designing and building earthmoving equipment. His business and name grew quickly, and he was soon completing earthmoving projects as large as building the highway to the Hoover Dam. During World War II, LeTourneau’s factories supplied over 70% of the heavy earth moving equipment used by the allied forces.

'Tread Toe' with creator James Capper at the controls

LeTourneau’s inventiveness is what earned him fame, and British sculptor James Capper is now using LeTourneau’s designs as inspiration for his collection of functioning mechanical sculptures that demonstrate a fluid fusion of art and engineering.

In an interview, Capper talks about the influence LeTourneau had on his work, “He did not build according to the rules of mechanical engineering; he had to re-write the rules to make his ideas come alive,” he said, “He was an ideas man, putting thoughts into reality and letting others refine his concepts. I feel that it is very important to bring new ideas to art, rather than re-treading familiar paths and recycling old techniques. LeTourneau is as important to me as any great artist that has broken down barriers.”

R.G. LeTourneau was an unconventional engineer, and James Capper is an unconventional sculptor. Through his powerful influence, LeTourneau’s legacy now lives on in one of the most unexpected places: modern art.


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