Beginning this spring, the Springfield Museums will present a series of ambitious exhibits and events all tied to the unique art genre known as “Steampunk.” Steampunk Springfield: Re-Imagining an Industrial City will take place from March 22 – September 28, 2014, with exhibits in both the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum and the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History. Additional events related to the Steampunk Springfield project will also be hosted by the Museums and other partner organizations, including the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and CityStage & Symphony Hall, among others. The project is sponsored by Merriam-Webster, Peerless Precision and AAA of Pioneer Valley, with additional support from media sponsors The Valley Advocate/Preview Magazine, WRSI 93.9, and media partner ArtScope Magazine.
Originated in the 1980’s, the term “Steampunk” describes a fantasy world where steam-powered technology of the Victorian era merges with elements of contemporary time. Steampunk has since grown into an artistic and design subculture combining science fiction, history, fantasy and technology.
According to Kay Simpson, Vice-President of the Springfield Museums, “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 to draw new audiences to the Museums for a bold and dynamic visual arts experience that also reflects the history of our industrial past.”
The entire project, including exhibits and the related programs, is being guest curated by Steampunk artist and visionary Bruce Rosenbaum of Sharon, MA, with creative project management by Mauricio Cordero. Described by Wired Magazine as the “Evangelist of Steampunk,” and a “Steampunk Guru” by the Wall Street Journal, Rosenbaum’s art and design projects and his company, ModVic, have appeared on major media throughout the country including The Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine.
“It’s always been my dream to take the Steampunk interpretation of combining ‘history + art + science’ and the act of repurposing to help inspire a whole city. I’m thrilled to be working with the Springfield Museums’ staff in a city with such a proud history of innovation, invention and many firsts.”
Over the past few months, Rosenbaum has worked closely with staff and curators from the Springfield Museums on how to use Steampunk as a means of reinterpreting the unique collections of the Victorian-era George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum and the Wood Museum of Springfield History. The GWVS Art Museum will host the cornerstone exhibit of the project titled Humachines, twelve large-scale pieces created by Rosenbaum and a group of select artists that transform legendary Victorian-era writers and inventors into the very creations they envisioned. Jules Verne be¬comes the fantastical Nautilus submarine, H.G. Wells becomes a human “Time Machine” and Mary Shelley becomes the High Voltage Machine that brings Frankenstein to life. Each sculpture includes original period objects relevant to each visionary’s work and inventions.
The two other primary exhibits of Steampunk Springfield consist of entries by artists chosen during design competitions in the fall of 2013. Brassy Bridal: Steampunk Wedding, with Steampunk bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, tuxedos, jewelry and accessories will also be on display at the GWVS Art Museum, while Fifty Firsts: Springfield Inventions Reinvented at the Wood Museum of Springfield History will utilize sculptural, functional, and two-dimensional art along with new media to re-imagine the city’s proud heritage.
The Museums will host a number of events tied to Steampunk Springfield, starting with an Opening Soirée on March 21, featuring dinner, a ribbon-cutting, a live performance by Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, and a preview by Rosenbaum of the three Museum exhibits. Other local organizations have also signed on to host related exhibits and events, making the project a community-wide effort. The Springfield Armory, for example, will host one of the Rosenbaum-designed Humachines along with an exhibit titled Steampunk Springfield Armory: Re-Imagining our Nation's Weaponry, which opens March 23. For its part, CityStage will host a Steampunk-inspired performance of the Broadway favorite “The Fantasticks” on Friday, April 11.
Other events and programs are being planned by the Springfield City Library and Springfield Technical Community College. Simpson and Rosenbaum expect more partners to join in the project as it gains steam. Additional events will be announced via a new project Facebook page, Facebook.com/SteampunkSpringfieldMA, and are slated to include a city-wide Steampunk Springfield festival in early September.