It all started with a mask. An amazingly beautiful mask found in a small shop down a snaking side canal. It all started in Venice – and it only got worse.
Thinking back, it might even have started when an eight-year-old Lora tried to explain to her grandmother what kind of lacy dress she liked. Having grown up in Oklahoma, my grandmother got it all wrong – she was thinking mid-west, mid-eighties lace – and while my youthful self couldn’t quite explain just how wrong she was, I knew in my heart of hearts that her vision just wasn’t going to cut it. Fast forward two decades and I finally found it – my love – steampunk.
Trying to describe steampunk can be a bit like my elusive eight-year-old vision of Victorian fashion. It is quite easily safe to say that you can show up to a steampunk festival (yes, they have those) and ask around for the definition of steampunk and feel the need to take notes. Everyone has their own vision and everyone has their own definition. What started as a literary movement in the ’80’s to honor the Victorian greats such a HG Wells and Jules Verne has leapt out of the books and onto the streets. It can be found at festivals, in music, in art, on blogs, in stores and probably in your next-door neighbor’s closet. And it is most definitely here on the North Shore.
Steampunk, though generally thought of to be based on the *present* day, harkens back to an age when steam engines, not electricity, power the world – where technology is pushing the very boundaries of human concepts, manners and a spot of tea are still the order of the day…and you had better do it all looking very fine indeed.
As my appetite for this movement has increased, my very world is slowly turning into a living dream (a very, very good dream). I have already dabbled in the art of the hand-made corset, I own two full Victorian gowns and countless steampunk outfits, I have a healthy set of beautiful (yet mis-matched) china and an awesome shrink-ray gun (with the latest in clean-gear technology). Plus as an uber geek – I even had a steampunk wedding complete with wedding music played on our very own gramophone (uh…we have two) and rings delivered via a miniature Montgolfier balloon.
Everything I see, I try to convert to the steampunk aesthetic. Could that dress work with some additional straps? What about those old gears – I could fashion those into an awesome wall piece, right? Oooh, look at that beautiful old glass bottle – an assortment of those would look awesome in that window upstairs!
Living in New England, and especially the North Shore, is a steampunk crafter’s paradise. We are in the heart of history – and thus surrounded by a lot of old things. There are a couple favorite haunts (no pun intended ye other Salemites) of mine that I’d like to share:
The White Elephant, Essex: The White Elephant has two locations in Essex – both on 133. The main shop is in downtown Essex with their outlet shop just about a mile north. Both shops offer an awesome selection of oddments that won’t break your pocket book. The shop downtown has a back area full of vintage tools and rooms full of old books, gadgets and gizmos. We found a beautiful 19th century fire extinguisher for $10 at the main shop and found our first gramophone at the outlet store.
Witch City Consignment, Salem: I like to call this place Jerry’s since that is the name on the building. This is a family run joint that can be tough on any deal making, but they have a great rotation of stock and often offer 25% or 50% off certain items. And they sell just about everything. I have lost track of the treasures I have found at Jerry’s, but my favorite is a huge vintage wooden sign with 3-d hot air balloons and gentlemen in top hats. We recently acquired a bundle of old wooden fruit boxes that we will be converting into a bookshelf.
Harrison’s, Salem: Where else to stock up on all of your steampunk literary needs than Harrison’s – an awesome local establishment. There are books about steampunk artists, there are steampunk novels and best yet – they carry the Girl Genius line-up. If you haven’t introduced yourself to the wonder of the Foglios yet, do it now!! They also have a section of vintage Classics Illustrated – a thorough perusal of these bins could reward you with a mid-20th century rendition of an HG Wells or Jules Verne classic. And just around the corner at the Red Lion Smoke Shop, you might even be lucky enough to pick up a sexy little steampunk gun – though these aren’t always in stock…check the front window.
Savers, Danvers: Okay, I know this doesn’t sound like the steamiest joint, but browsing their home goods section and the endless clothing racks always generates more ideas than a girl should have. You can pick up pieces from the home goods section to craft your own shrink ray, death ray or other tools for world peace (I mean domination). Or you might find an awesome vest that just needs some chains, gears and straps to become your number one. And on the note of thrift shops, you can never discount a good yard sale!!
Market Square Jewelers, Newburyport: They also have locations in Portsmouth, NH and Dover, NH. This little jewelry store packs a punch – they have a magnificent array of quality, vintage pieces. While the Portsmouth store is small, old and adorable, the Newburyport store has great staff and typically a beautiful selection (and it’s closer). Everything is handled carefully and the service is top-notch. You can imagine my relief at finding their shop after months searching for a vintage setting.
Now, I know you are on the edge of your seat, ready for your new life in the realm of steampunk, so just a few more ideas on where you can showcase all your new found excitement. Keep in mind that many events are winding down for the winter (I hear we might actually get snow this year), but you will have plenty of time to geek out come spring.
Steampunk Festival, Salem: On its third year, this small (but growing) festival takes place in September. You’ve just missed out on this year’s event, but keep an eye out for next year!
Watch City Festival, Waltham: Okay, not exactly the North Shore – but this one is definitely worth it as the largest steampunk festival in Massachusetts. This fest usually runs in mid-May and is a great introduction to the summer! One of my favorite activities is to watch the folks from Prospect Hill Forge work their craft!! And if you are into watches, the Charles River of Industry offers great exhibits that are good for all ages (year round).
Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band: This multi-member rag-tag orchestra of sorts will blow your socks off! The music is fun, intriguing, foot thumping good! They have a couple of show dates coming up – check out their schedule for more details.
And if all else fails, we live on the North Shore and Halloween is never far away…
Thanks to our friend Lora for this awesome guest post! She is happy to answer any questions or recommend great books and movies of the steampunk genre. Just ask in the comments.