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Of clockworks, top hats, goggles and adventure: 'Steampunk' at MUSEO in Langley
It’s that time of year when MUSEO is compelled to lend a rebel yell to the quiet winter streets of South Whidbey.
“Steampunk,” MUSEO’s gallery exhibit of Steampunk style devices, contraptions and fashion, opens with a gala reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 and runs through Feb. 28.
The show will feature about 40 local artists who will capture the early 19th century spirit of adventure, invention and craftsmanship as reflected through the Steampunk aesthetic.
What is Steampunk? It can be different things to different artists, but in the “Steampunk Bible,” author Jeff VanderMeer defines it as a grafting of the Victorian aesthetic and punk rock attitude onto various forms of science-fiction culture. It’s an artistic phenomenon that has influenced contemporary film, literature, art, music and fashion.
Local artist and costumer Julie Cunha has created a Steampunk costume which will be used for the character of Cobweb in Island Shakespeare Festival’s August production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Cunha said the piece reflects her own personal style that emerged out of the punk rock era of her youth.
“Punk is a lifestyle. Everything is trashed, improvisational; like squatting, taking things over,” Cunha said.
“My sister and I couldn’t afford to shop at Nordstrom, so we used to Dumpster dive before there was a name for it.”
Cunha used this kind of approach for what she calls her “Steampunk Fairy” piece. It was a process that she calls guerilla collecting; storing found objects and ideas drawn on paper in boxes until she decides to use them.
“I used five horrible dresses which I ripped apart. I used the best components — sleeves, underskirt, bodice.
I like doing that — taking the best elements of each and then, I ‘steampunk’ stitched them together,” Cuhna said.
Material for the costume includes a champagne-colored satin with leather, metal, velvet, silk, chiffon, georgette, lace and felt balls. A choker necklace is made from found metal objects.
“It’s taking remnants of other people’s lives and breathing new life into them,” she added.
Artist Richard Evans said he will wear a unit of body armor to the event that expresses his idea of Steampunk.
“I tend to think of Steampunk as esteemed junk — materials and concepts I’ve been dealing with for some time in more than one discipline,” Evans said.
Evans created a mixed-media piece for the show he titled “Victoria’s Tease,” a sculpture made from mostly metal and other found objects.
“While creating my work, I think about adhesives — drying and curing time — and how cold the floor of my studio is in the winter.”
For Cuhna, another aspect of the Steampunk aesthetic for her is not only collecting the found materials, but also collecting input from other artists. For this costume she consulted a master seamstress, a model builder and a musician. She collaborated with fellow artist Peggy Juve, who made a satin top hat and gloves which accompany the dress for the installation.
“The hat is satin with ruching detail and an ostrich plume. It is finished with metal clock components,” Cunha said.
“I see the faeries of Shakespeare’s plays as natural Steampunk ‘upcylers,’” Cunha said,
“Faeries are always collecting things wherever they go and using them where they live.”
Although the Steampunk movement emerged as recently as the 1980s, it can trace its roots to the likes of authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and through to modern expressions such as the 2009 movie, “Sherlock Holmes.”
Its followers celebrate the inventor as artist who blends antique machines with new technologies and creates re-fashioned airships and robots and wears cool romantic-looking clothing, accessorized perhaps with metal clockwork pieces and old-fashioned goggles.
Speaking of clockwork, local jewelry designer Bret Christensen started creating Steampunk pieces at the urging of his children. His first piece was a ring for which he combined a vintage rose-gold ring, an old mechanical rose gold watch movement and rubies set as he would a gemstone.
“It sold instantly,” Christensen said, so he talked with his kids some more and came up with more pieces, which were equally well-received by his customers.
“Some of these designs include watch parts, mixed-media, gemstones, keys, gears, and some nautical items, all set with precious metals like gold and silver,” Christensen said.
“This style is really gaining popularity. I have been using my experience as a goldsmith and my love of mixed-media to create some new items for the show. Some are truly one-of-a-kind.”
Christensen will show a small collection of jewelry in the Steampunk style for the MUSEO show.
MUSEO welcomes visitors to wear all manner of top hat, goggles and tailored, covered button coat; whatever one’s imagination can dream up for “Steampunk” at the gallery gala on opening night.
MUSEO is located at 215 First St. in Langley. The phone number is 221-7737.