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Gears, goggles and corsets: Exploring Anchorage's steampunk-themed 'steamposium'

  • Author: Hope Miller
  • Updated: May 17, 2016
  • Published April 17, 2016

Donning vintage goggles, hats embellished with gears, jackets with metallic accessories and voluminous tiered skirts, people took a fanciful step back in time at a steampunk symposium in downtown Anchorage over the weekend.

Ron Stein was among the vendors and had steampunk-themed jewelry, decorative boxes, pocket watches and other accessories for sale inside the 4th Avenue Market Place on Saturday, where the two-day "Cirque Du Steam" was taking place at the Alaska Experience Theater.

"The community is growing every year," Stein said of Alaska's steampunk scene.

People from around the state traveled to Anchorage for the event, and Stein said he knew of a few people coming from the Lower 48 "just to meld with the steampunk community."

The gathering drew a crowd of mostly adults and some kids Saturday afternoon. Those who opted not to dress in steampunk apparel were in the minority. A costume contest, a timed competition to "steam-punk" objects, a talk on how to develop a steampunk persona and a screening of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" were among the events scheduled Saturday and Sunday.

Defining steampunk

Stein said he defines steampunk as a subgenre of science fiction where the Victorian era meets industrialization "in a Jules Verne version of the future that cannot possibly exist." In this fictional world, steam-powered technology prevails.

Wearing a military-esque uniform with cogwheel-shaped pins fastened to the front of his jacket and handmade studded epaulets on his shoulders, he said he was dressed as an airship commander.

"It can be military, naval, Western, post-apocalyptic, the genre is wide open. Just about anything you can imagine people emulate," Stein said.

Stein got into steampunk about a decade ago when he went to a steampunk-themed wedding at the University of Alaska Anchorage's planetarium. The bride wore gloves and carried a parasol. The groom had a top hat with gears on it. Stein was intrigued.

A cellphone case covered in gears was his first steampunk project, and "it just exploded after that." His steampunk items sell the best, he said. He started off making cameo dresser boxes, but these days he sticks with steampunk containers and trinkets.

Vendor December Fields-Bryant said she likes steampunk because it brings back "Victorian gentility" and mixes it with "sci-fi fun."

"You don't have to worry about the racism and the sexism and all of that of the Victorian era," said Fields-Bryant, who wrote her college thesis on steampunk as a subculture.

For Heidi Deadmond, who prefers to go by her steampunk name Beatrix McCormick, steampunk is a way of life. She was involved with Anchorage's initial steamposium last year, where she said about 250 people turned out each day. At this year's event, she gave a talk on creating a steampunk character. People were challenged to come up with a steampunk name, occupation and backstory.

Outside steampunk gatherings in the heart of downtown, McCormick goes to occasional meet-ups and will dress in full steampunk attire for events like Fur Rendezvous.

"Usually they'll ask me if I'm in a play. That's the first question I'll get," she said of people who see her in steampunk garb. "Or, 'What are you doing? Is there something going on that I'm missing?' "

Creating the look

Getting to be creative with costuming is what draws many into the steampunk world, McCormick said. People construct their own outfits and look in unexpected places to create their costumes.

Tess Purvis was at the steamposium Saturday with service dog River -- both were in costume. Purvis wore a Vera Wang wedding dress she snagged for $20 at a thrift store and altered. Over it was a patterned jacket embellished with light blue accents. River's getup started out as a children's dress from Target and featured the same fabric as Purvis' top.

While steampunk is a nod to Victorian-era clothing, Fields-Bryant said it's a step up from re-enactment because costumes can have a 21st-century flair to them. Exposed corsets, for example, would not have been socially acceptable in the 1800s but are common in today's cosplay.

"There's a bit of whimsy to it, and I love seeing that whimsy," she said.

With the science-fiction elements, Victorian history and, most importantly, the costuming, steampunk is a culmination of all the things McCormick said she loves.

"I like to say I've been steampunk my whole life, I just didn't know there was a term for it until about 10 years ago," she said.

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