Local man's Robot Repair shop in city the unreal deal

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

It's almost impossible to figure out whether Toby Fraley's Robot Repair Shop is real.

Fraley, 35, of Bridgeville, won the Public Art Award from the Greater Pittsburgh Art Council on Nov. 30 for his installation. The award is sitting on one of the repair tables on display, and is the only authenticity giveaway.

Fraley's piece features an intricate display of robots, lights and parts, and it looks as if the repair shop were a functioning entity.

The piece is located at 210 Sixth Ave. in downtown Pittsburgh and has been on display since Light Up Night 2011. The initiative to use the vacant storefronts is part of the Pop-Up Pittsburgh Project, which is meant to bring more art and commerce into the business and cultural districts.

“People think that it has to be real; there are mail slips and order slips, and notes about being out of town on the door,” Fraley said.

Fraley's storefront contains approximately 300 different items that he imagines would be found in a robot repair shop, and, he said, that he has added around 25 percent of the items gradually.

“I remember reading mechanics magazines with my dad when I was a kid, and some of them were about the future,” Fraley said.

“I wanted to create an alternate space where some of those things could have been true.”

Fraley's exhibit changes with the seasons and currently is displaying a robot sprinkling fake snow around a shiny white Christmas tree. He revisits the shop at least every two weeks to add components and check on the display.

“I give the robots a number in a sequence,” Fraley said. “I am up to 67.”

He has been a full-time artist since 2001 and does craft festivals, gallery shows and commissions.

“A lot of people ask for robots,” Fraley said.

Fraley has constructed robots for various clients, including corporations in Silicon Valley and Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.

The storefront was supposed to come down on Light Up Night this year, but the landlord is letting him continue to use the space.

“It is month to month at this point,” Fraley said.

“But I would like to keep the piece up until I have said all that I would like to say.”

Fraley will be doing a solo project at SPACE gallery in Pittsburgh starting in February 2014.

Jacquie Harris is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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