Unique Subculture Links
Visual Art and Design with Industrial History
March 22 – September 28, 2014
In conjunction with several other local institutions, this spring the Springfield Museums will be hosting, “Steampunk Springfield: Reinventing an Industrial City.” This series of exhibits and events explores the cross-disciplinary subculture and literary genre known as “Steampunk.”
What is Steampunk? Steampunk is expressed primarily through fashion, two- and three-dimensional art, and fantasy writing, with an emphasis on science fiction, historical fiction, and horror stories a la Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells. Steampunk is a genre of alternate history, in which historical events, people, and places are reimagined, frequently in post-apocalyptic scenarios or the American “Wild” West, as well as in the Victorian era. Steampunk seeks to answer the question: “What would the world be like if the steam-powered mechanical technology of the Victorian era was incorporated into current technology and all other aspects of human life today?” The Springfield Museums’ response to this question, as presented by guest curator and well-known Steampunk artist, Bruce Rosenbaum, is a truly unique contribution to the genre.
For the past few months, Rosenbaum – dubbed the “Evangelist of Steampunk” by Wired Magazine – has collaborated with members of the Springfield Museums’ curatorial staff to reinterpret the Victorian-era items in both the art museum and the history museum through the lens of Steampunk iconography and mythology. This work resulted in several exhibits at the Museums’ George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum as well as the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History. Additional exhibits and events will be taking place at other local institutions, including the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.
In keeping with the emphasis on alternate histories and inventive authors like H. G. Wells, Rosenbaum and a team of artists created twelve large-scale sculptures that comprise the first exhibit, Humachines, on display at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum. These works depict legendary Victorian-era authors and inventors as though the machines and technological items they envisioned in their stories were part of them: H.G. Wells is a human Time Machine; Mary Shelley is the High Voltage Machine that brought Frankenstein to life. Each piece includes period objects that relate to the work and creations of each author-inventor portrayed.
Concurrently on display at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum will be “Brassy Bridal: Steampunk Wedding,” a collection of entries submitted by artists to design competitions held in the fall of 2013. This exhibit will showcase Steampunk-inspired bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, tuxedos, jewelry, and accessories.
Meanwhile, at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, Bruce Rosenbaum’s creative eye and hard work will be clearly evident in “Fifty Firsts: Springfield Inventions Reinvented.” The show will utilize sculptural, functional, and two-dimensional art along with new media to re-imagine the story of Springfield’s industrial heritage. This display promises to be particularly fascinating as it combines authentic historical artifacts from the museum’s collection with the whimsical and thrilling twists and turns of Steampunk fantasy writing.
THINK ABOUT IT:
When attending with your kids or students, ask the questions:
- How might Springfield be different today had steam-power remained the dominant source of energy and heat?
- What might cars, buildings, and even people look like?
- How might the history of Springfield be different as a result of of these historical alterations?
- Do you think that the type of industry Springfield supported was responsible for the economic rise and fall of the city – and if so, would the story end differently when examined through a Steampunk perspective?
The Museums will host several events in conjunction with “Steampunk Springfield,” beginning with an Opening Soiree on Friday, March 21, 2014: this will include dinner, a ribbon-cutting, a live performance by Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, and a preview of the three Museum exhibits hosted by Rosenbaum. In a community-wide turnout, many local organizations will also host related events: the Springfield Armory debuts its exhibit “Steampunk Springfield Armory: Re-Imagining our Nation’s Weaponry” on Sunday, March 23, 2014, and CityStage has planned a Steampunk-inspired production of “The Fantasticks” for Friday, April 11, 2014. A city-wide Steampunk Springfield festival will tentatively take place in early September. Stay tuned for more details and other event postings via the Steampunk Springfield Facebook page: www.facebook.com/steampunkspringfieldma.
The Springfield Museums are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10am to 5pm and on Sundays from 11am to 5pm (closed on Mondays). Admission is free for Springfield Museums members, Springfield residents with proof of address, and children ages 2 and under; $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and college students with ID, and $8 for children ages 3-17. 1-800-625-7738. 21 Edwards Street. Springfield, MA. www.springfieldmuseums.org