Blending 19 century aesthetics with 21st century technology is the theme of a new exhibit opened Tuesday at the Western Heritage Museum and Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame on the New Mexico Junior College campus in Hobbs.
Discovering Steampunk brings such names as Jules Verne, HG Wells and Mary Shelley and their visions of the future. Erin Anderson, museum executive director, and Kim Claunch, curator, encountered the company responsible for the exhibit, Imagine Exhibitions of Atlanta, Ga., at an American Alliance of Museums conference.
“They had several exhibits — dinosaurs, space, Titanic,” Anderson said. “Steampunk just stood out to us as something that’s really educational combining science and art. It’s something fun that everyone is intrigued about but they don’t really know.”
A subgenre of science fiction, steam-punk uses steam as a power source and “is an inspired movement of creativity and imagination. With a backdrop of either Victorian England or America’s wild west at hand, modern technologies are re-imagined and realized as elaborate works of art, fashion, and mechanics,” according to the website. Claunch pointed to television shows The Wild Wild West from the 1960s and, more recently, Warehouse 13 in the early 2000s as typifying the steam-punk aesthetic.
“Take away the cowboys (from Wild, Wild West) and all that technology was steam-punk,” she said.
The exhibit also tracks the work of inventors Isaac Singer, founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, and George Eastman who launched Eastman Kodak. Though the name steampunk wasn’t coined until the mid-1980s in letter to Locus Magazine from science fiction author K. W. Jeter. Singer and Eastman had embraced the concepts decades before.
“It was their vision of the future,” Anderson said. “They had a vision of the future which incorporated their technology into what the future was going to be.”
Discovering Steampunk features in several hands-on exhibits, including a diving helmet ala Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. There are also a Jacob’s Ladder and Van de Graaff generator, examples of inventions demonstrating the power of the new to the 19th century phenomenon, electricity.
As part of the exhibit, museum staff and NMJC campus outreach plan to work with Lea County school districts, inviting students for workshops exploring steam-punk technology through building projects, Anderson said.
“This is a super interactive exhibit,” Claunch said. “It’s going to tell you about steampunk, where it comes from in literature.
Anderson agreed: “We’re excited to be doing some different things. This is very different than anything we’ve done before.”
Discovering Steampunk runs Tuesday through June 5. Regular museum hours are 1 – 5 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Andy Brosig may be reached at.