With abundant imagination, Kevin Travers creates art from untraditional materials.
By Nicole Maranhas • Photography by Kevin Travers
First came the Bunny Bots. Kevin Travers was sidelined with an injury from his carpentry business when he began sketching in the barn where he spent time as a caretaker. It was nearly Easter, and the combination of cabin fever and his rustic surroundings inspired him to assemble three toy robo-rabbits as gifts for his children and niece. Handmade from old scraps of mahogany, with drawer-pull grins and long, floppy ears repurposed from fiber belts, the stout Bunny Bots were an instant hit—and just the beginning.
The native Rhode Islander discovered carpentry as a teenager, eventually focusing on remodeling and historical restoration before starting his own company, American Revolution Design, four years ago. “Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be a carpenter,” he says. “I got my first set of tools when I was seven or eight, took my first shop class in ninth grade, and from there I was hooked.” After recovering from his injury, he began making more toy characters, as well as furniture, with a unique eye for upcycling materials, influenced by so many years spent among the farmhouses and historic homes of New England. “I am drawn to use those old materials and rustic items,” he says.
Travers works solely with found objects, scrap pieces from former projects or unwanted discards that people give him—boxes of junk metal, broken appliances and even an old organ. He documents each object so that buyers will know how a piece was made, and scrap-donors can track the second life of their stuff. One coffee table built with chestnut from a 1720s Connecticut home also uses copper plumbing parts from a Hopkinton farmhouse, a gleaming copper panel salvaged from the walk-in freezer of the old Larchwood Inn (a historic southern Rhode Island landmark), and brass tomato stakes from his grandfather’s garden. Travers is also partial to secret compartments and hidden messages: Open the lid of a child’s bench built from an antique toolbox and discover sliding trays for stowing away toys. “Everybody likes to hide secret things,” he says. “I like moving parts and things to play with.”
The real play comes in an army of toy characters (more than 90 in all) from the original Bunny Bots and series of Barnwood Buddies, to the tiny Nano Clan and a fleet of farm machines nicknamed the East Coast Buggies. They are all part of a greater storyline—a fictional out-of-work carpenter builds robots to run the farm where he is laid up—bearing nicknames and origin stories inspired by Travers’ own life and people he has known. Three-foot-tall “Flower Power” is the resident gardener, comprised of nearly 150 vintage parts: an electrical breaker box, the legs of a kitchen table, TV antennae, bits of old tools. His eyes are mirrored cabinet knobs; he wears a roof vent for a hat. All the toys are cold-assembled (no plastic, glue, or welding) with moving parts—making them ideal stars for a future stop-motion animation film Travers intends to create.
When, that is, he can find the time. Salvaging, recording, designing, and creating—in addition to his residential work (built with the same appreciation for highlighting the natural beauty of materials)—are a round-the-clock effort. But Travers hasn’t forgotten that old injury. “When you go through tough times, you learn to appreciate everything because it could be pulled from you in a second,” he says. “It makes you go all-out to push yourself and do your best. I love to find the beauty in each piece of wood or metal and highlight its character the way it is. For me, it’s all about old-style craftsmanship, the way things were built back in the day.”