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Dragon*Con 2012’s Alternate History Track Maker Highlights: More Than Just Glued-on Gears
Created by ProfHoppingood on 9/7/2012 5:53:19 PM

Patricia Nolde gives her highlights on all the Alternate History maker events at Dragon*Con!


It’s the creations and ingenuity of the Steampunk makers that often first draws attention of spectators and captures the creative imaginations of the erstwhile inventor. This year’s Alternate History track once again inspired and informed makers both novice and expert through a fascinating selection of panels and displays. 

On the practical side, panels were offered in Basic Building Techniques, Props for Time Travellers, Steampunk Science, and No-Sew Techniques for Garb and Gear, featuring some of the best known names in Maker Craft: Matt Silva, Travis Scott Merrill, and Arthur Hinds.  (And if you don't know these names, you certainly would recognize their work.)  One of the highlights this year was a special guest to our track, Nicholas John Robatto, the lead prop creator for Doctor Who and Torchwood. These makers discussed at length the weighty questions of materials selection and use,  form and function, design inspiration, and the challenges of creating with brass, leather, latex, wood and casting mediums.  But the point that was underscored by all was that safety was a primary consideration in any workshop. “Safety is what people need to understand, “ said Nick Robatto. “You’ve got to put it first, really. Respirators, dust protection, ear protection.” All panelists were emphatic in agreement with Scott Merrill that, “it’s not just enough to open a garage door and work outside” and urged all makers to learn about the safety requirements of the mediums they work in. 

For the second year in a row, the Alternate History track opened its doors to the Dragon*Con public at large and displayed the vast array of maker-talent among the Steampunk community during the Gadgeteers Showcase.  A handpicked selection 25 of the most accomplished amateur makers in the community manned tables of elaborate and fanciful creations, gladly talking to appreciative spectators and answering questions regarding their designs and techniques. According to Paige Gardner Smith, who organized the Showcase, "Because these are amateur builders and hobbyists, they are not afraid to take chances with a build. They boldly go and create what they imagine with amazing results! Leaf blowers become inflatable dirigibles, sewing machines become needle guns and the ordinary becomes... extraordinarily Steampunk."

The line of people to see the steampunk artistry stretched out the door and down the hall outside the ballroom, while This Way to the Egress entertained those waiting their change to view the displays.  For nearly three hours, this immensely popular event inspired awe and kindled creativity for nearly 1500 guests. “Dragon*Con's audience is so appreciative of the time, imagination and energy that goes into the Gadgeteers Steampunk exhibits,“  Smith elaborated. “That folks turn up in such numbers for the show every year is a BIG vote in favor of 'enthusiastic mechanical crafting'!"

But the spectacle of fantastic creations is never limited to the panel room or the ballroom. At its heart, the Steampunk movement is a DIY culture, a society in which every person can be an inventor, a tinkerer, and an engineer. The hallways outside the track rooms were a cavalcade of makers eager to show off their creations and share their inspiration with anyone who cared to ask, demonstrating once again that Steampunk is not a hierarchical society, built upon stratifications that set some makers and personalities above others, but a popular movement in which a first time maker queued in a hallway can create works of astonishing quality and garner the same praise as a professional props artist. 

And that’s just one of the things this writer loves about the Steampunk community.

Patricia Nolde is an absent-minded professor with a wanderlust and too many unfinished projects. 

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