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Steampunk show merges art, fantasy, steam technology

The opening of Steamworks: Art, Stories, & Adornments, an exploration of the thematic genre of Steampunk at The Ackland Museum Store
The opening of Steamworks: Art, Stories, & Adornments, an exploration of the thematic genre of Steampunk at The Ackland Museum Store

Steampunk has invaded the Ackland Museum Store.

The artistic genre — which takes the lens of steam technology to traditional science fiction — now covers the shelves in the store.

Since May 10, “Steamworks: Art, Stories & Adornments” has exposed people to the genre by displaying steampunk-inspired artwork, including jewelry, masks and small insect pieces, in addition to more traditional paintings and drawings.

“(The show) kind of goes into art, fashion and writing,” said Alice Southwick, manager of the Ackland Museum Store. “We called it ‘Steamworks’ because there are a few of these artists, while they often show in steampunk shows, who don’t necessarily consider themselves steampunk artists.”

The show, which runs until July 13, expands the worldview of steampunk from standard art forms into jewelry, dress and music.

“Steamworks” also features events from local artists, including a book signing with John Claude Bemis, author of “The Clockwork Dark” trilogy, on Thursday.

“We try to find a local component wherever we can, to find the really good local artists,” Southwick said.

Madelyn Smoak is a local jewelry artist whose work, made primarily of tin and metal, was also featured. The styles and placements of her pieces often seem to draw from fantasy, but fantastical elements aren’t her only influence.

“Once in a while, when I least expect it, like when I am driving or about to go to sleep, I see pictures of things I might create,” Smoak said in an email. “These pictures seem to hover in a space behind my forehead. If I like them, I will usually make a quick rough sketch before they disappear.”

Elwira Pawlikowska, a Polish artist featured in the show, said she finds inspiration in a variety of places.

“Classes about history of architecture and classes about architectural design were very inspiring to me,” Pawlikowska said in an email.

Southwick said steampunk is more than just fantasy.

“When we looked at this stuff, there was not just romanticism but also humor too,” she said. “You know that these pieces don’t really exist, but the humor in them is that they could … It’s really a mind trip.”

Southwick said she hopes the show exposes both steampunk enthusiasts and newcomers to the genre. She said while planning the event, they had students in mind.

“It was a little bit in homage to the kids who were graduating,” Southwick said. “We opened just that Friday before graduation, and we did get a lot of students who came in with their families.”

Ultimately, Southwick stressed one thing.

“I hope people will have fun,” she said. “Maybe they will learn something, maybe they will be inspired.”

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