December 17, 2012
Rotofugi isn’t your kid’s toy store. Located on the border of Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods, the designer toy store and art gallery sells a plethora of figures aimed at adult collectors and designed and sculpted by artists, ranging from miniature zombie marshmallows to giant colorful monsters. Its newest addition, a rehabbed Mold-A-Rama machine dubbed the Roto-a-Matic, gives customers a chance to get in on the action. "The whole point, for us, was adapting this kind of interesting old technology to do something that was new and fresh and relevant to what we do, which is toys designed by artists," said co-owner Kirby Kerr in an interview at Rotofugi. For those who grew up, or vacationed, in the Midwest and coastal tourist cities, Mold-A-Rama may be familiar. For a few dollars, the machines make plastic souvenirs usually figures of animals on demand. Rotofugi’s machine is a bit different. Instead of a kangaroo or polar bear, the Roto-a-Matic creates art toys. "I love the thought of using this old technology to do something new and fresh," Kerr said. The miniature injection blow molding machine, about half the size of a vending machine, occupies a corner of Rotofugi’s spacious storefront. Customers buy a token for $6, insert it into the Roto-a-Matic, and watch as the machine clatters to life melted polyethylene wax shoots into an aluminum mold (kept at a chilly 25° F by an antifreeze solution), bursts of air force the plastic to conform to the sides, and in a few minutes, the machine ejects a still-warm, hollow figure.