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Steampunk exhibit kicks off in Anaheim - Local News - Orange County, CA - Santa Ana, CA on Astini News

& A girl with hair dyed cherry red wears goggles, a tight corset, a lacy Victorian dress and black military boots. Her friend, a gent, dons a top hat, an early 1900s gas mask, fingerless leather gloves and crimson canvas trousers. He holds a pistol that looks like a fusion between the Wild West and a 1950s sci-fi flick. &

All of this is not some new fashion trend. It's Steampunk, and it's been around for a while.

The Steampunk movement is a retro-futurist, Neo-Victorian approach to the modern world, inspired by the industrial Age of Steam. First coined in 1987, Steampunk has literary roots, but now extends into comics, film, music, fashion and the fine arts -- especially visual art.

A new, multimedia Steampunk exhibition opens Sunday at Muzeo in Anaheim. "Steampunk: History Beyond Imagination" examines the origins of Steampunk, with a review of its scientific and literary sources. The show also offers a look at material Steampunk culture, with drawings, action figures, costumes, imaginary inventions, videos, photos and ephemera from Steampunk events.

"I've had an interest in this stuff since I was a kid," said Peter Overstreet, co-creator and curator of "Steampunk: History Beyond Imagination." The San Francisco illustrator and performer grew up reading Bram Stoker and Jules Verne, which got him interested in Victorian issues, science fiction and eventually, Steampunk.

For Overstreet, 37, the reasons he's steeped in Steampunk are as much philosophical as they are whimsical and aesthetic.

"We live in a disposable society," he said. "Everything is plastic, everything is saturated, everything is manufactured with the least amount of design or beauty possible. People are into (Steampunk) because of a nostalgia factor. They like to look back on things fantastical. The (objects) all have an organic romance to them, with rich, romantic colors, earth tones, jewel tones."

Cat Taylor, Overstreet's wife and "Steampunk" co-creator, agrees.

"I think our society is so built on technology, people want the balance of historical perspective," she said. "We look at it as a simpler time, yet there's a fantasy element, too."


The Muzeo show opens with a historical gallery that traces the roots of Steampunk back to writers such as Cyrano de Bergerac, Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Florentine artist Leonardo da Vinci is thrown into the mix for his designs. Scientists whose theories or creations offer an alternative version of history include Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Sigmund Freud and Nikola Tesla.

Fast forward a few decades. Victorian science fiction writers Verne and H.G. Wells are considered critical, father-like figures in Steampunk's origins. Vintage books of theirs are on display in Anaheim, as well as replicas of the Nautilus from "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" and the time machine from the 1960 film of the same name.

Overstreet has a special connection to Verne -- the exhibit curator directs and stars in Legion Fantastique, believed to be the world's only Jules Verne-themed theatrical troupe. The group performs an interactive show that teaches scientific concepts through the lens of Verne's fantastical worlds.

"One of his most prolific quotes was, 'What one man can dream, other men can accomplish.' That's a staple that I live by," Overstreet said. "He mixed science and imagination for the first time ever, and made it so credible and believable. He was really prophetic in what he was writing."

In other galleries, we see turn-of-the-20th century French diagrams for intricate paper toys; Steampunk costumes, weapons and gadgets; and action figures from the 2001 Disney animated film "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," considered a Steampunk-inspired production.

In a downstairs gallery, a copy of Locus magazine from April 1987 sits in a glass case. In the letters section of this science fiction publication, author K.W. Jeter offers what's believed to be the first written reference to Steampunk: "Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like 'steampunks,' perhaps."

Jeter, a graduate of Cal State Fullerton, was referring to fellow authors Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock, who also studied at CSUF. The three met there in the English department, and are considered to be the first Steampunks -- in contrast to cyberpunk, which was popular in the late 1980s.

Incidentally, both Blaylock and Powers currently teach at Chapman University and as writers in residence at the Orange County High School of the Arts.

Some wacky, Steampunk inventions are on view at Muzeo as well. There's the Tauruscat Dream Helmet by Tom Banwell; a Treborian Monitor for Madame Duchamp by Robert Dancik; and a Manucycle by John Harrington made of an antique invalid chair, steel and wood. The Manucycle actually works if the rider pumps and steers it, though visitors are discouraged from sitting on or touching it.


Though you may be new to the term, you've probably seen Steampunk fashion, gadgetry and culture already in television and the movies. Examples of Steampunk have appeared in "Back to the Future III," "Brazil," "Wild Wild West" (both the 1965-69 TV series and the 1999 film), "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," "Sherlock Holmes" (2009) and "Sucker Punch."

The Datamancer website sells desktop computers and laptops that have been re-fashioned out of wood, brass, silver and other old-school materials. The site and company are run by Richard "Doc" Nagy, who describes himself as "Steampunk contraptor, technical artist and jackass-of-all-trades."

Muzeo isn't the only local art institution presenting a Steampunk show. In February, the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana will produce a Steampunk book and exhibit of illustrations created by CSUF illustrators to accompany texts by Blaylock, Powers and Jeter. "Steampunk" will run in the center's Project Room from Feb. 4 to April 15.

Finally, as a complement to its "Steampunk" exhibition, Muzeo is featuring "The Queen's Gallery," a showcase of Victorian art and objects from the collection of Anaheim Hills residents Dr. Howard and Linda Knohl. The exhibit brings together more than 60 paintings from accomplished artists of the Victorian era, as well as 400-plus objects from the British Empire, including walking sticks, weapons, match safes and music boxes.

"The Queen's Gallery" runs through Jan. 8. May the crossovers commence.

Contact the writer: 714-796-6026 or

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