Amber Fisk of Bettie & Co. in Wyoming arranges Steampunk-style jewelry, which she said sells as quickly as it’s brought into the store.PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER
Busch’s handmade feather headpieces have a Victorian flair, which serves as the basis for Steampunk.PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER
Marfisa and Mike Busch of Jenkins Township are fans of all things not only antique but odd. When they stumbled upon a “Steampunk” gas mask recently, they had no idea what a burgeoning subculture they’d discovered.
“It just amazes me that people come up with these ideas, that they’re actually making these things,” Marfisa, 26, said.
“It just blew me away. It was really cool,” Mike, also 26, echoed. “And then I thought, ‘Hey, I can make this.’ ”
So he did.
Mike has crafted a Steampunk-style gas mask, which he hopes to turn into a full headpiece.
The D-I-Y aspect of the Steampunk world is only a glimmer of what the genre is all about, though.
Steampunk. What exactly is it?
“A very visual art style, genre and growing community that takes its cues from the Victorian era through World War II in fashion and science fiction,” explained Erin Tierneigh, a founder of Steampunk World’s Fair, an event that began in 2009.
“It’s about reimagination,” said Bruce Rosenbaum, of ModVic Victorian home restoration in Massachusetts. “It doesn’t lend itself well to a single explanation.”
“You can use Steampunk as a template on just about anything and ‘Steampunk’ a lot of things for the fun of it,” Tierneigh said. “People have asked and answered questions from ‘What would Batman look like if he was in the 1800s?’ up to ‘What would cell phones have been made of if they were in the hands of Victorian-era Americans?’ ”
Steampunk can be as subtle as a Victorian-inspired piece of home décor or jewelry to going all out and getting into an actual character, such as a mad scientist or an adventurer.
But has Steampunk arrived in NEPA? It’s made inroads.
“I think Steampunk has caught on here, but people don’t realize it,” said Nina Menichelli of Bettie & Co., a boutique on Sixth Street in Wyoming that carries Steampunk-inspired pieces. “They don’t know that what they’re buying and a lot of the things they’re seeing have a Steampunk element.”
And where might you see Steampunk? Read on.
Perhaps one of the most functional aspects of Steampunk is how it fits into home décor.
Bruce Rosenbaum’s business, ModVic, focuses on Victorian home restoration and Steampunk design.
“We use authentic period objects, like Victorian or industrial age, and infuse modern technology into them,” he said. “It basically blends time periods.
“You can take Victorian items and modernize them, or you can take modern items and affix pieces to it to make it look like it’s from the Victorian time period,” Rosenbaum said.
But there is a trick to obtaining period pieces that can be reworked or broken down.
“Antique shops and salvage yards are the best places to go,” Rosenbaum said.
Olde Good Things, a national architectural-salvage company with a warehouse on Gilligan Street in Scranton, sells many old, novelty pieces. The huge space houses everything from fireplace mantels and stained-glass windows to heaps of chairs and doors.
Olde Good Things staffers are careful not to touch the items they salvage, leaving the fate of the pieces to the customers.
“If you start altering the piece, it can really limit what the customer will be able to do with it,” explained Barbara Macrae, who has been with the company since its beginning.
Rosenbaum believes in the practicality of Steampunk. He repurposed a Victorian pump organ as a computer work station, complete with webcam, three monitors and several USB ports, all made to look Victorian.
Steampunk enthusiasts, however, should be careful with repurposing involving technology.
“You have to assume or understand that the tech part of whatever you’re building might become obsolete, so you need to engineer it in a way that you can update it.”
Thomas Wileford, of Brute Force Studios and Fallen Angel Fashions in Harrisburg, a well-known business in the Steampunk community, took a 100-year-old English prayer book and hollowed it out so it could disguise a hard drive.
“If I need to update the hard drive, I can simply pop it out and put a new one back in the book.”
The theme of “everything old is new again” applies to the fashion aspect of Steampunk.
“In the ’60s and ’70s there was a real pioneer spirit. It was a time of exploring and finding ourselves, and this reflected in our clothes through a prairie element,” Nina Menichelli of Bettie & Co. said. “Now we are driven by technology and can consider ourselves technological pioneers. The Industrial Revolution, which goes hand in hand with steam power and Steampunk, had people who were also tech pioneers, and now this is showing in our clothing.”
Brass, copper and cogs are prevalent in Steampunk style, as well as found objects.
“We’re carrying antique objects sized down as jewelry, like scissors, eyeglasses and hand mirrors,” Menichelli said.
“The Victorian aspect is seen in feather headbands and accessories as well as mini-top hats.”
Menichelli said the items that come in get snapped up almost as soon as they arrive.
Steampunk accoutrements involve goggles, weaponry, leather gas masks, pocket watches, spectacles and leather armguards, some of which have keyboards.
A piece of Steampunk gear that’s more involved is the mechanized arm, which has found its way into popular culture in the form of ABC’s comedy-drama, “Castle.” Nathan Fillion, who plays the lead character, finds himself investigating a murder in the Steampunk community.
“We actually outfitted Fillion with that arm,” Thomas Wileford of Brute Force Studios said.
“Movies also have had a big push with the aesthetic,” Bruce Rosenbaum said. “You can look to Sherlock Holmes and Wild Wild West in terms of gadgetry.”
Other Steampunk-heavy movies are “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “The Golden Compass.”
Video games, such as Bioshock and Torchlight, also look “incredibly Steampunk,” Rosenbaum said.
Mainstream music also is in on the trend. The most recent example is the Panic! At the Disco music video for “The Ballad of Mona Lisa,” heavily laden with Steampunk imagery.
Authors referenced as Steampunk include Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and, most recently, G.D. Falksen.
G.D. Falksen is the emcee for Dorian’s Parlor, a monthly event that takes place at the Doubletree Hotel in Center City Philadelphia.
Dorian’s Parlor is an evening party that takes inspiration from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Not only is it packed with entertainment and vendors, it’s just something beautiful to see,” said Jason Watt, a founder. “Men are in top hats and suits; women are decked out in bustle skirts and corsets.”
Dorian’s hosts an array of events, from fashion shows to book readings, bands and burlesque and circus-style sideshows.
“A lot of people look at this and think it’s something for the younger crowd, but it really isn’t,” Watt said. “We have people from 21 all the way to those in their 70s and 80s that come.”
Steampunk events are popping up all over the East Coast.
Want to get up close and personal with the lifestyle? Head here:
What: Alternative Living Expo, including the Alternative Bridal Expo, Distinctive Pleasure Gala, and Back to the Future Home show
Where: Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, Oaks, Pa.
When: 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. tomorrow; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $15, includes both days and all shows
What: Dorian’s Parlor
Where: Doubletree Hotel, 237 S. Broad St., Philadelphia
When: 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. March 12
Admission: $25, or 21 and over, includes drink ticket and appetizers
In the works: To our north, Waltham, Mass., will transform into “The International Steampunk City” for the weekend of May 6.
For more Steampunk photos go to timesleader.com