A week ago I posted a review of The Steampunk Bible, a nice compendium that tries (and succeeds, I believe) to answer the question, What is Steampunk? While that book chooses to answer the question with a mixture of essays and coverage of music, literature, fashion, and more, a new book, The Art of Steampunk, comes at the question from a different angle by providing a book of full-color photographs of some of the most popular artists and designers working under the steampunk umbrella.
Between October 2009 and February 2010, folks lucky enough to visit the Steampunk Exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford (UK) were able to see first-hand some of the best creations featured in this new book. Jewelry, time pieces, goggles, ray guns, and mechanical pieces with no real category to fit their functions — they’re all here in vivid color and with some excellent biographies of their creators.
The book’s author, Art Donovan, is himself a noted steampunk designer; you can view even more of his work than is featured in the book at donovandesign.com. (I’ve already found some inspiration for the redesign of my office; Art’s lamps and lighting mechanisms are beautiful, and I’m certain I can find some inspiration to design something of my own.) He was the person who suggested a steampunk exhibit and then worked as the curator to assemble the collection from eighteen artists and designers from across the globe.
The book wastes very little time getting to the good stuff – after a few brief pages from the Director of the museum and Art himself about how the exhibition came to be, the book provides a four-page essay titled Steampunk 101 written by G.D. Falksen. This essay is, hands-down, one of the best essays for anyone in your circle of friends or family that lacks any knowledge of steampunk. Broken into sections with titles like Where does steam come in? and Where does the punk come in? and Where does the Sci-Fi come in?, it’s a quick study and a great way to prepare the reader for the eighteen artists next featured.
I’ll admit that when I first got the book, I simply sat down and flipped through the entire book, looking at all the pictures and reading an occasional figure caption to better understand what I was viewing. Next I went back and found the objects that caught my eye and read their respective artist bios. And finally I started over and re-read it all. While all of the artist bios are interesting reads, I really enjoyed the bits of fiction scattered here and there, giving the objects in question a bit of history and mystique.
I was thinking I would avoid calling out any particular artists, but then I changed my mind — I’m certain that every artist will find a new gaggle of followers from the designs in the book, but for me I’ll be paying attention to Eric Freitas who has some unbelievable timepieces that work. He’s an actual clockmaker and the book mentions that he creates every gear and chain in his devices. His clocks are unbelievable.
I’m also liking the timepieces and accouterments crafted by Haruo Suekichi from Tokyo, Japan. I like the natural leather colors and wood elements that he incorporates into his devices.
If you’re a fan of steampunk, you’ve likely already flagged this book as something to add to your library. While I’ve enjoyed the recent surge in steampunk fiction novels, I’m also glad to see the release of many non-fiction titles like this one that are providing additional content for us steampunk fans. As I mentioned earlier, simply having this book available with the Steampunk 101 article bookmarked (with a velvet strip, of course) is a great way to educate others on our enjoyment of the subject and give them some eye-candy that might convince them to buy a ticket and join us on the airship.
Note: I received a copy of the book for review purposes.
I managed to sneak a few questions to Art Donovan about the exhibit — his responses are below.
GeekDad: What was the typical response from visitors towards the Steampunk Exhibit? What were some of the comments you received about the collection?
Art Donovan: Pure delight! It was so unusual to see visitors so animated and noisy in a museum. Many asked where the exhibition would occur next. Still others wanted the exhibition to be permanent.
GD: Were there any unusual comments from visitors who viewed the authentic Victorian era antiques, thinking them steampunk creations?
AD: I have heard many comments which stated that they didn’t know where the exhibition pieces stopped and the museum’s antique pieces began…
GD: As a fan of Datamancer’s Steampunk Laptop, I have to ask – were there ever demonstrations of the key being used to turn on the laptop?
AD: That would have been great but Datamancer lives in California and his pieces were encased in Lucite for protection.
GD: I hate to put you on the spot, but of all the exhibit pieces, did you have a particular favorite?
AD: Yes. Molly Friedrich’s “Incubator.” There were some astonishing elements in her piece that were invisible in the photos. Also there were some elements in her work that were incredibly poignant and visible only to Dr. Bennett and myself as we set the sculpture up for display.
GD: The collection of art ran from jewelry to freakish clock designs to miniature brass machines to cartoonish steampunk figures – was there any particular collection that was an overwhelming hit with those new to steampunk?
AD: It seemed from the responses and posts that each of the artists were a favorite of someone.
GD: As someone who is hoping to “steam up” his office in the next year, I was wondering if your office or workspace is suitably Victorian? (If so, any pictures you might share would be great.)
AD: My workspace is pure functionality with no design elements whatsoever. Our house is a combination of hand crafted with many design influences from global to antique French design. My wife and business partner, Leslie, designed the entire place along with designing our first Steampunk exhibition in Bridgehampton.