The Mandroids came from the earth, bringing the memory of past history and a vision of a better future.
Their creator, Manfred Harter, sees many things in the small figures based on chicken and other poultry bones — finely-detailed and humorous miniatures that he started making two years ago while convalescing and not able to play his guitar.
“The Mandroids exist as physical things that I make, building and recycling, the pleasure of making them. Then I began to create a fiction for them. I knew that people accepted supernatural beings in stories and the Mandroids had a story to tell.”
As Harter, who is best known as a musician and teacher, made more characters, everything from samurai swordsmen, to a rock band (with audience), to skiers, he realized that the elements of his own past life had been preparing him for the project.
His first experience with recycling was when he was growing up in post-war Germany.
“The older boys would get us little five- and six-year-olds and send us into bombed out buildings to find what we could, old army helmets, unexploded bullets, copper and lead pipes, paper, whatever they could sell after they had promised us a cigarette or candy,” he recalled.
The family moved to Canada in 1952 when he was eight and when Harter was in his early teens, he had a trapline in Northern Ontario. Then he discovered the guitar, worked as a typesetter at a newspaper and traveled in Europe, performing along the way. He learned Iaido sword technique, how to appreciate visual art and got to know people with physical challenges and admire how they used their abilities. He received scholarships to study music in France and Japan then came back to Toronto where he met his wife, Mila. They visited the Okanagan in the early ‘90s and moved here soon after where Manfred taught at Kelowna Community Music School for 10 years.
He’s not certain how the tradition of breaking a wish bone to get a wish grew into the Mandroids.
“I just saw it as a head and a pair of legs and feet and wondered how a person could compensate without the use of some limbs. I started dressing the bones and making small accessories for them and people liked them and wanted me to do commissions. After I had made 10 or 15, I decided to add words to their lives. Now I have 111, a video on YouTube, with another to come soon, and a series of books in the making. I’ve brought together the world of the physically challenged, superheroes, a perspective on how we live on earth and how that could change. I want to think outside the universe,” he said.
“It was people asking me questions about the figures that made me think more about them and change from just making them to trying to find answers to those questions that worked with my fantasy. They are extensions of my thoughts and my music and my interest in crafts and recycling and the general fate of human beings.”
The story, which Harter envisions as never ending, begins when a child making a wish on a wishbone thinks wistfully, ‘I wish this chicken was alive again.’ This simple, positive sentiment is released into the universe while the piece of chicken bone goes to the garbage dump. It stays there for many years while all humans are taken from the earth by extra-terrestials and the earth starts to return to a natural state. The chicken bone regenerates, not as an animal but as an animate being with the memory of everything that has passed on earth. The first Mandroid, The One, finds its way to the surface of the earth and meets a snail and a turtle. The Mandroids can choose their roles, showing a preference for music and Shakespeare. Although they might seem limited by their structure, they can adapt to achieve what they want. They will eventually spread out across the world in search of their dream — the ability to fly as they were birds in the beginning.
“I think people can see many things in the Mandroids and their experiences, as a children’s book, and for adults, with meaning as a story, a parable, maybe a warning, maybe things I have yet to see,” said Harter.
He attributes his accomplishments to Mila.
“She’s taught me about the basics of life. She keeps teaching me. She has supported me through everything for the past 32 years.”
Look for the Mandroids on YouTube and more information about Harter and his music and art at www.manfredharter.com