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Function Dominates Form at Dragon*Con’s 2011 Steampunk Exhibition
Created by DoctorQ on 9/19/2011 7:44:32 PM

 The Chronicle covers the Steampunk Exhibition at Dragon*Con for 2011, chock full of maker goodness and more!


‘The Steampunk Exhibition’ returned to Dragon*Con again this year, and because last year’s overflow attendance in the Westin, this year’s Exhibition was expanded into a larger ballroom. Just as before, attendees cued across several floors, but organizers were better prepared for the interest and managed to get everyone into The Steampunk Exhibition before the end of the show. Suffice it to say, the maker’s exhibition continues to be one of the biggest draws on the Alternate History Track. 
 
Organized by Birmingham costumer and Steampunk expert Paige Gardner Smith, this exhibition is a point of pride for the woman at the helm of this World’s Fair of Steampunk Wonder.
 
“So much of Steampunk is expressed in a DIY fashion, with talented individuals and groups creating amazing gear, building working gadgets and crafting mechanical marvels, we felt that a big showcase was needed to show off and appreciate the level of creativity within the Steampunk subculture”, said Smith, who continues “While the garb is an integral part of the expression, the gadgetry and gear is what makes it Steampunk – the Exhibition recognizes and celebrates that aspect.”

One thing we noticed in particular was a predominance of function over form, a notable evolution from the Steampunk props on display last year. To quote Lady Potts of the League of S.T.E.A.M. - California’s premier paranormal troubleshooters   “Our stuff works.” And rightly so.
 
League of S.T.E.A.M., whose demonstrations of their tools were front and center at the Exhibition – and if you were lucky, see them in action. There were also functioning musical instruments modified by Atlanta’s own Extraordinary Contraptions, or Alisdair McAllistair’s Music Box with winding pistons and crazed mechanical movements that take the organ grinder to a whole new level. Also, the unique tools of Baron Bon Bar featured his “weaponry” utilizing an arsenal of devices for serving a variety of adult beverages by gun, grenade, or what have you. His own words on the event summarize our own experience quite well:
 
 
 
“From those who are just starting out or even learning about Steampunk for the first time, to those who have been doing it for years. I really loved to watch people’s eyes as they saw what I built and how many of them started to work out things in their heads, on what they planned to build. It was also lovely to talk with some of the top builders in the nation too and see their work, not that I got to very much time to do so, it was quite the crowd. Pretty much a non stop stream of steam if you will, it really hit home how large of a movement it is now.”  
 
 
Functional Wolverine “claws”, Professor Xavier’s mechanical chair, and more were on display from Daniel Valdez and the Steampunk X-men, along with a very impressive working “moustache press” from
 
Wrabbitworks that delighted the children and adults alike as it turned out a stack of cut paper moustaches. There were wall to wall armaments, gadgets, and accessories, many of which lit up, moved, or sounded as if steam truly powered it. The array of talented makers and craftsmen was impressive. 
 
Other creations of note were the automaton costume creations of Paige Smith and the “Electrophonic Energy Harvester” under museum glass from Jeri & Darrin Eader and the leatherwork and brass crafts of CopperRaven Steamworks.
 
In addition, exhibitors such as comic book artist Joe Benitez and authors Jeff & Ann VanderMeer and G.D. Falksen were present, as well as photographers Dim Horizon Studio and Michael Blitch Photography, all contributed to the wellspring of art and creativity that steampunk has to offer. 
 
“It’s an opportunity to discuss, share ideas, and have fun,” says exhibitor and jeweler Steam Powered Pinky about the experience, to which Adam Baker, who portrays Jasper Dunlap of the Apparition Abolishers adds, “It’s a chance to show off our gears and gadgets… it’s been a great time for all of us.” 
 
  
 
 A great time, but a limited one, and only two short hours made it incredibly difficult to absorb it all. In an effort to cater to those waiting outside the ballroom, select exhibitors offered to mingle and entertain them as well as pose for As a matter of fact, Paige Smith’s regular entreaties over the audio system to keep the people moving through the event, may have been the only thing ensuring that the entire line of incoming audience members were able to tour The Steampunk Exhibition before the lights were dimmed. 
 
That being the only critical point of note, some of the more memorable moments of our run through the Exhibition gauntlet included the following exhibitors of note:
 
  • - The League of S.T.E.A.M. yet again wowed the crowds, and the antics of their trained zombie milled about the ballroom, under close supervision by the good Lady Potts. The League makes us wish that transcontinental travel was far more affordable, as we at the Chronicle enjoyed their entertaining array of wondrous tools they displayed for keeping the world safe from the zombie menace, ghosts, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night.
     
  • - The stunning debut of Penny Dreadful Productions’ holistic world concept of Remnant – as we at the Chronicle broke as an exclusive prior to the show – were in force. We saw the Flesh Mechanics, Dreadnaughts, Drones, Wardens, and the imposing Architect looks and are solidly impressed with how well it communicates a dystopian world pulled fully formed from the creative genius of this band of fabricators.
  •  
  • - Iron Zeppelin Productions exploded unto the foreground with an amazing build – a prop airship that they used as a float in the parade. Build on wheels, the ship sails the grounds and is piloted on the fully fabricated interior on the part of the captain. “The response has been immensely positive,” says co-founder Tyler Althafer. And rightfully so.
  •  
  • - Lastly, Nashville’s Apparition Abolishers showcased their power packs and something simply called “The Device” which was a pleasure to behold for certain! These folks are set to showcase what they can do in a major way coming up next month for the Geek Media Expo, so keep your eye on them. Dr. Torque’s inventions are sure to keep those pesky paranormal predators at bay. I wonder if they cover the southeast, and the League covers the west coast…. I shudder to think that the north and Midwest must simply be infested. Lucky for us both of these groups bring such unique talents to the world of steampunk.
  •  
The last word from Ms. Smith, an organizer delighted with her event, says it all:
 
“It’s so exciting to bring together the best Steampunk builders and craftsmen from around the country and give them a showcase to show off the best of their work! Dragon*Con is the perfect venue for the Exhibitors’ talents to be appreciated AND for the biggest audience east of the Rockies to get a taste of outstanding Steampunk creativity”, said Smith, adding “We’re constantly working to keep “The Steampunk Exhibition” fresh for attendees, to discover new talented builders and to make it the go-to event for Steampunk enthusiasts.”
 
If you missed going to Dragon*Con, you missed the best showcase of ‘All Things Steampunk’ that we have ever seen. It was produced flawlessly, presented earnestly, and is a testament to an ever-growing creative force building this subculture. Our hat and goggles are off to both Paige Smith and the Alternate History Track at Dragon*Con as this program makes clear that Steampunk is evolving  beyond painted nerf guns and into an expressive force of functionality, form, and fantastic artistry.
 
 
Doctor Q is the Media Editor for Steampunk Chronicle. He fancies himself an acoustic arranger of music and founder of the Artifice Club. In additon, the article images were taken by our fellow correspondent Patricia Nolde.

 

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