The August heat has lingered as long as the spring chill in June, thankfully, creating idyllic conditions for 2 of my favorite events this year - one I've attended or worked at for 11 years & the other brand new.
The 1st annual Springfield Steampunk Festival suddenly became my inaugural event in the world of Steampunk when my husband, Phillip, a millwright & rocket scientist, invited me to accompany him; yet I felt strangely at home, dressed down tho' I was in a denim skirt, white blouse & sandals, even compared to my husband in his Utilikilt (we saw 3 that day). I've been an undercover costumer for a long time as well as a history geek & optimistic subversive so I might as well come out of the closet now - just as soon as I finish re-organizing it in our new Steampunk dressing room.
The day began with a talk by Bruce Rosenbaum of ModVic, which only fermented ideas that had already started bubbling in my mind. Tho' he was smartly dressed in waistcoat & trousers, he convinced me Steampunk is not just for show - for some it's art therapy, reclaiming a region's history, creating a welcoming home & more.
Beyond the fascinating fashion statements & gorgeous gadgets, here are what have surprizingly emerged for me as possibly Steampunk's deepest intents:
taking control of technology & placing it back into the hands of the people
taking responsibility for recycling the materials & culture of industrial society
bridging class divides & transcending stereotypes by creating flexible personas & encouraging play
reintegrating arts & sciences, fun & seriousness for wholeness in humanity
consciously evolving beyond consumers & producers to reintegrate ourselves into Earth's ecosystems
To me, the "steam" in Steampunk includes all of industrial society, not just the Victorian era. Industrial culture in its entirety is really the technological foundation of Steampunk, tho' perhaps most gloriously exemplified in the exceedingly formal, decadent, exploitative & elegant ways of the mid- to late 18th century. While the origins of the Steampunk movement & style can be traced to Victorian literature & more recent literature about Victorian England, I predict that the historic scope will continue to expand backward into the Industrial Revolution as it already has expanded forward into the Digital Revolution. I sense it branching out into Country Steampunk, as my nascent characters & Vermont homestead are already doing, as well as other related directions like Art Nouveau Steampunk, just as Victorian London has thus far learned to share the Steampunk stage with the Wild,Wild West.
The "punk" in Steampunk is no accident either. It's all about challenging the status quo, the official versions of history, society & progress, creating our own evolving views of the past, present & future of Western culture, what we're supposed to look like, what things mean & how they are valued. Earlier this week, a close friend in his mid-eighties, a great-grandfather, was arrested with several other dignified elders for protesting the building of a fracking pipeline thru' our beautiful state of Vermont. A grandmother joining him explained to a police officer who chided her for embarrassing her grandchildren that she was doing it for them & proud of it. That's punk.
To a degree, so is snagging something from a barn sale that would otherwise end up in a landfill & turning it into some practical or even decorative. William Morris famously exhorted us to have nothing in our homes that we do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. That seems downright subversive in the face of planned obsolescence in manufacturing & corporate addiction to unlimited economic growth.
Perhaps the greatest dichotomy & certainly my favorite dual aspect of Steampunk is service to the planet within the context of human ingenuity. A complemetary paradox that makes this possible is the very serious responsibility for cleaning up our industrial mess combined with a sense of whimsical frivolity in the shadow of our civilization's impending doom. Civilizations have come & gone before, extinction events are routine on Earth & we've set in motion geological cycles thru' behaviors we cannot rescind. Yet perhaps thru' a new spirit of collaboration between inventiveness & creativity we can create the next human culture more deliberately, not just in fantasy fiction but in fact. Otherwise we're dinosaurs in top hats & goggles, petticoats & bustles (not a pretty picture). So let's dress up in fantastic finery & frippery, & let's also strip down to the truth about who we are, where we came from & where we are in the world at this moment in history. Let's get to work ... & play!
As for the 144th Tunbridge World's Fair, I'll let the sights & sounds of it speak for themselves! Here's a link to a video created by some Hartford High School students, in which I am carding Shetland sheep's wool & singing the praises of our local swine exhibition. And this is a photo album combining my professional position as handspinner on Antique Hill, my revolutionary Steampunk character, Patience Goodwife, & a few shots of me with my mother, Mabledean & husband Phil; even a few posing with a marble from the new One Earth. One Voice campaign.
And October promises to be even more packed with exciting events. Visit again soon for details on the Healing Arts & Crafts Fair hosted by the new Vershire Women's Wellness Circle & a Healing Arts Festival on the State House lawn in Montpelier presented by Vermont Weaving Well-being Network among other festive happenings. Register early for upcoming retreats with themes from Healing & Crafts to Steampunk Weekend!