The fantastical exhibition “Steampunk Springfield: Re-Imagining an Industrial City” is coming to the city later this month and bringing with it ideas for the future.
Bruce Rosenbaum, affectionately known as the “Evangelist of Steampunk” by Wired Magazine, is the guest curator for the expansive project.
“Steampunk is about all reinvention. It’s an art form that wants to inspire people to bring new life and new purpose to objects and places. Springfield is a city on the edge of getting back its mojo to again become a great city of commerce and vitality. This is the perfect time to have this exhibition so we can all re-imagine Springfield as a post-Industrial city,” he said.
Additional events will be hosted by partner organizations throughout the city, including the Springfield Armory, City Stage, Symphony Hall, Central Library and Springfield Technical Community College.
The term “Steampunk”, coined in the early 1980s, is used to describe a fantasy world where the steam-powered machines and technology of the 19th century merge with elements of contemporary time.
“The project offers us a unique opportunity to showcase our collections in exhibitions that draw upon cutting edge trends in style and design. Our goal is draw new audiences to the Museums for a bold and dynamic visual arts experience that also reflects the history of our industrial past,” said Kay Simpson, Vice-President of the Springfield Museums and Steampunk Springfield project supervisor.
The first exhibition in the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum called Humachines and based on the idea of turning iconic Victorian-era authors and inventors like H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Thomas Edison and Nikolai Tesla into super heroes.
“It’s almost like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but in a Steampunk repurposed way. These famous authors and inventors changed the world but what if they were able to time travel and come back as the machines that they wrote about or created?” said Rosenbaum, who is also working with creative project manager, Mauricio Cordero.
Jules Verne, author of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” becomes “sub-human” as the Nautilus made with repurposed with ship parts. Five artists joined Rosenbaum to create a dozen pieces that light up, move and have sound. Comic book artist Brett Kelley drew cover art and one of the works, the Thomas Blanchard Hu machine, will be featured at the Springfield Armory’s exhibit of Steampunk Springfield Armory: Re-Imagining our Nation’s Weaponry, which opens March 23.
A second exhibition called Brassy Bridal: Steampunk Wedding will highlight the fashion and accessories of Steampunk’s artistic and design-oriented subculture obsessed with the dramatic Victorian style integrated with technology and a colorful modern twist.
“We wanted to set up a contest amongst fashion designers where they repurposed items from the old costume inventory at CityStage,” said Rosenbaum, sharing that CityStage will host a Steampunk-inspired performance of the Broadway favorite “The Fanta sticks” on April 11.
“There are about 20 artists doing this part, some are hardcore Steampunk designers and others who just love the genre and want to be creative in it. It doesn’t even feel like costuming, it’s stuff you could actually wear.”
Over 30 artists involved in the “Fifty Firsts: Springfield Inventions Reinvented,” the third exhibition at the Wood Museum picked from a list of Springfield’s unique relevant inventions and innovations to come up with incredible pieces from artist James Kitchen and a Steampunk Gee Bee airplane made by Jack Kalian of Indian Orchard’s 42 Design Fab.
“You’ll see Indian Motorcycles next to the art they inspired and much more. Mostly of the artists are from Western Mass with regional folks. I work with artists all over the world but really wanted the artists to be local because it is Springfield-focused and it’s meaningful for the people in the area,” said Rosenbaum.
An Opening Soirée on March 21, featuring dinner, a ribbon-cutting, a live performance by Walter Sicker and the Army of Broken Toys, and a preview by Rosenbaum of the three Museum exhibits.
Throughout Steampunk Springfield will be a focus on “S.T.E.A.M”, or Science, Technology, Engineering, ART and Math, demonstrating to the even the youngest visitors that it’s cool to be to grow up to be an artist, scientist or an engineer and help their city thrive again.
“It might not happen now but in 15 or 20-years, we’ll see how using art this way helped inspire kids from the city and this area,” he said. “By taking a look at where we are now and what we need to do, and then we give the future a concept with ideas to move forward. Having all of that in this one package, I hope, will inspire everyone who sees it.”
STCC will present “Futures aping Springfield” in conjunction with the UMass Design Center. Students in a 3-D modeling course, taught by an instructor who loves Steampunk, will present their idea of what Springfield would be like in 20 to 30-years with a new and improved rail system that once again turns the city into hub of New England. The model will be made out of repurposed dictionaries from Merriam-Webster.
Rosenbaum teamed up with artist John Simpson, the artist behind the original MGM Resorts concept drawings, and UMass professor Frank Sleeger and his design students to take a look at how the downtown and waterfront areas can be interconnected again.
“We’re hoping to do a Steampunk tour of the city and plan to have a major festival in September on the same weekend as the Mattoon Arts Festival,” said Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum, who lives in Sharon, travels the nation with art and design projects with his company, ModVic, and has been featured in The Boston Globe, Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
“I had been doing Steampunk art exhibitions in museums and galleries but once I did a little research on Springfield, I was totally blown away. Originally this was meant to be in one museum with a fashion component but I wanted to push it to the limits,” he said.
“For me, Steampunk goes beyond just pretty objects, it’s more about being resilient and able to repurpose ourselves through life’s adversities. Technology and time doesn’t always mean an object or a place has to be discarded. We can give it new life if we can think differently and we can do that through this design and art movement of Steampunk.”
“A Culture Cocktails Steampunk Party will take place on May 1, in addition to two Museums a la Carte lectures: “The Romantic Roots of Steampunk” with Lynne Z. Bassett, Costume Textile Historian, on May 8, and “Living Steampunk” with Bruce Rosenbaum, Steampunk Evangelist guest curator of Steampunk Springfield on May 29.
The Springfield Museums are located at 21 Edwards Street with free, onsite parking available. General admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and college students, $8 for children ages 3-17, and free for children under three and museum members. Springfield residents receive free general admission with proof of address.
For more information about Steampunk Springfield: Re-Imagining an Industrial City and exhibit-related upcoming events, call (413) 263-6800 or visit Facebook.com/SteampunkSpringfieldMA or springfieldmuseums.org