Circular Reasoning: Why I Create Volvelles
What is a Volvelle?
The Latin word for turn is volere, from which we get words revolve, evolve, and Volvo. These round paper devices, also known as adjustable round charts, data wheels, slide charts, or circular slide rules, consist of movable data wheels affixed on a center axis. They condense lots of information in an easy to manage format. Rather than turning a book around to compute the motion of stars, tides or eclipses, the early inventors created volvelles as “moveable books.”
Volvelles enjoyed a heyday in American pop culture of the 1950s; marketers featured “round data wheels” as prizes in cereal boxes, giveaways in gas stations, and interest rate calculation devices in banks. Their application is broad, used for conjugating verbs, coordinating colors, choosing wines for different meats, adjusting one’s golf swing, learning first aid, calculating duct sizes, and timing pregnancies. Their uses are multitudinous.
My Vision: A Volvelle Renaissance
My dream to reintroduce these low tech devices into the hearts and minds (and hands) of 21st century folk is fraught with challenges. Like Sisyphus, the effort to promote these items is an uphill struggle. Digital devices can compute a thousand times faster than any hand held manipulative device. The slide rule is history.
Nevertheless, these round charts are more than novelty toys or tools. They are an art form in themselves. Amassing, simplifying and reducing tons of information to a compact form which is both aesthetic and easy to manipulate is a design challenge! Paper engineers, geometers, writers, graphic artists, book designers, origami artists, data synthesizers, and teachers embrace such a task with vigor. Anyone can write a paper, but to put the contents of that paper onto eight inch concentric wheels that delight the hand and the eye, now that’s an achievement. My special emphasis in volvelle creation has been focused on but not limited to therapeutic purposes (assuaging emotional and relational distress) by appropriating ancient wisdom from Solomon.
We’ve also invented Circulart, wordless, moveable, picture, cartoon, and game volvelles. Click here.
For the love of circles
What is the shape of the full moon? The sun? A drop of water at rest? One’s iris and pupil? What motion does the earth spin on its axis? Orbit the sun? (I know it’s elliptical not circular, but work with me here). What’s the greatest invention used in carts, clocks, machines, and pizza? The wheel. Dante envisioned seven circles of heaven and hell. Even God is said to sit enthroned above the circle of the earth (Isaiah 40:22). Aristotle loved circles and built a whole philosophy around them. Dada artist Marcel Duchamp created (and went broke manufacturing) Roto-reliefs to create optical illusions. His art was to be spun on record player turn tables. From prayer wheels to sun dials, the circle has held fascination to humanity for ages.
The Stradivari of Volvelles
Intentional necessity is the voluntary limiting of one’s self to work within self imposed confines. Like a poet who adheres to strict rules of sonnet writing, as a chartist I adhere to the strict rules of volvelle creation. To qualify as a bona fide volvelle the following features must be present.
- Hand held with two (or more) concentric circles affixed on a center axis with information in either radial, peripheral, or centrifugal form.
- Juxtaposition of data either side by side or through windows.
- Geometric, getting all those little windows to align.
- Visually engaging.
This is my therapeutic art. I continue to invent volvelles on the hopeful assumption that the limits of creativity have not yet been reached. I invite you to join me in Spinning My Wheels.