Dan Tanenbaum’s “aha” moment came when he was visiting a watch dealer and saw a bucket of old watch parts.
“The dealer told me it was garbage, so I took it all home and started playing around,” he said.
Since then, Tanenbaum has been turning timepieces into art pieces.
As a vintage watch collector for many years, his collection includes a Rolex Submariner Reference 6538, his personal favourite, and an Urwerk 103.09. But Tanenbaum said there’s no “ego in my collection. I have everything from Seiko to Rolex and whatever is in-between. To me, if the piece charms me, if there is something about it that is unique enough that I love, I’ll get it.”
Tanenbaum’s started out making cufflinks out of watch parts. “I sold them through Holt Renfrew for a year,” he said.
Working out of his home studio, Tanenbaum started creating one-of-a-kind miniature motorcycles.
“I’m just a Jewish kid from Forest Hill (in Toronto) who has never rode a motorcycle in my life. And while I could research motorcycles, I actually formed a community on social media to help and guide me. People would say, ‘The exhaust is on the left – it should be on the right,’ and ‘That looks like a V-Twin engine.’ It helped me get into the intricacies of the build. I built motorcycles exclusively for around four years,” said Tanenbaum.
The self-professed heavy metal steam punk artist was surprised when he was approached to make a Kidrobot Dunny – a rabbit figure with distinctive tubular ears. “I did my first release with them two years ago – 15 pieces that sold out in less than 20 minutes. Since then, I’ve done four more releases.”
Tanenbaum finds his watch parts at flea markets, estate sales and antique shows. “No matter how banged-up these watches are, or how bad the condition looks,” said Tanenbaum, “when you open up the back of it, the insides, the actual mechanisms of the watch, are mint.”
Tanenbaum was one of the artists selected for the Baycrest Brain Project, for which he created a flat, two-dimensional brain encrusted with thousands of vintage watch parts woven together with cogs and gears to make it appear like one giant movement.
Tanenbaum also makes custom sculptures. His work is sold internationally and is exhibited at the Struck Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto.
“These old watches and their parts are on the way to the junkyard. And here I am able to breathe new life into them, that otherwise would end up in the garbage, and will now live again,” said Tanenbaum. “A new life on someone’s shelf.”
The 47-year-old said that his childhood exploration of antique shows was a rite of passage. His parents, Carole and Howard Tanenbaum, are distinguished collectors of 19th-century photography, African art and vintage costume jewelry.
“My mom, she literally wrote the book on vintage costume jewelry, Fabulous Fakes,” said Tanenbaum. “My grandfather, Max Granick, was a great collector of African art and that resonated with my parents. We used to go to antique shows almost every weekend when I was a kid.…
“My wife and I continue that tradition, visiting antique shows as often as possible with our three kids. I just love it – the thrill of the hunt has always been something that has driven me to collect.”
Transitioning from an early career as the art director for a leading advertising agency, Tanenbaum’s entrepreneurial drive found him starting an online company that helped promote artists, photographers, graphic designers and illustrators. “I would put their portfolio up on my site and, in turn, promote them to the advertising industry,” he said.
Next, he created a company called Bump 50/50, a software company that helps sports foundations raise money through 50/50 raffles. “I have been a technology entrepreneur for the past 15 years,” said Tanenbaum. “At some point, I felt I just wasn’t accessing my creativity.”