Gear up for ‘Discover Steampunk’ exhibit

The Art of Nerding Out

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“Steampunk Reimagineer” Bruce Rosenbaum. | Adam Forsgren,

Even if you’re not familiar with what “steampunk” means, you’ve probably seen it before. It’s a visual aesthetic that reimagines futurism through a lens of 19th century technology. Steampunk elements have shown up in everything from movies and TV shows (“Hugo” and “Wild Wild West”) to video games (“Bioshock”) to comic books (“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Iron West”).

Now, an exhibit opening Friday at the Museum of Idaho explores steampunk and some of its visionary contributors while treating visitors to gorgeous steampunk creations and teaching about science, technology and art.

“Discovering Steampunk” immerses museum visitors in a world filled with modern machinery and devices brought to life by technology and materials available in the Victorian era of the 19th century. The exhibit focuses on notable authors and scientists whose visionary creative and scientific work laid the foundation for the steampunk movement.

The heart of the exhibit are seven “Humachines,” Steampunk art pieces that capture concepts and ideas of 19th century visionaries. For example, author Jules Verne is transformed into a physical version of the submarine from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” The “humachines” were assembled by a team of artists using existing and repurposed parts and feature light elements and movement.

Along with well-known authors like Verne and “Frankenstein” scribe Mary Shelley, “Discover Steampunk” also highlights lesser-known Victorian-era innovators like Jan Matzeliger, whose invention, the shoe lasting machine, helped make shoes vastly more affordable to common people.

The Mary Shelley humachine.

“Discover Steampunk” also features interactive features that demonstrate scientific concepts illustrated by the “humachines.” Visitors can play a theremin — an electronic instrument featured in many science-fiction movie soundtracks from the 1950s and ’60s — or they can pilot remote control airships similar to the giant dirigibles of the Victorian era. These features educate exhibit attendees on scientific principles and provide a little added fun.

Adam demonstrates the theremin. | Adam Forsgren,

“Something we love to do here at the Museum of Idaho is multi-disciplinary learning,” Director of Public Relations Jeff Carr told East Idaho News.

He said this is the type of exhibit that brings together and teaches concepts of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) and teaches them in such an engrossing way, visitors may not even realize they’re learning.

“They’re having fun, they’re engaging, they’re enjoying it, but at the same time, people, and kids in particular, are getting inspiration for future innovations and learning about their own place in society,” he said

The exhibit is the brainchild of “Steampunk Reimagineer” Bruce Rosenbaum. Owner of ModVic, a company that creates steampunk art and design pieces for museum, corporate and residential display, Rosenbaum was first introduced to the concept of steampunk through the television series “Wild Wild West,” which he saw as a child. The show existed before the term “steampunk” was used, but it featured many concepts that would come to define the movement.

Years later, Rosenbaum stumbled across steampunk when an acquaintance touring their home remarked that he and his wife were “steampunking.” “I said, ‘Steamwhat? That sounds weird and wonderful,’” Rosenbaum told East Idaho News. “When I Googled it, and kind of understood there was a whole culture behind it, all my passions began to align.”

His imagination fired by steampunk imagery, Rosenbaum decided to make it his career.

Rosenbaum’s goal with “Discover Steampunk” was render concepts of STEAM with steampunk visuals in a way that would excite and inspire.

“There is this superficial eye-candy visual explosion that gets people through the door,” he said. “But for me, it really goes beyond that. I think steampunk helps you to grow a beautiful mind.”

He hopes the exhibit illustrates methods of creative problem solving employed in the creation of his “humachines.” He also hope visitors leave with a sense of “resilience,” or repurposing and transforming old objects into something else and giving them new life.

“It’s the perfect metaphor for improving and changing our own lives when we hit adversity,” he says.

“I think steampunk helps you to grow a beautiful mind.”

— ‘Steampunk Reimagineer’ Bruce Rosenbaum

Rosenbaum also hopes visitor leave “Discover Steampunk” with an appreciation for teamwork.

“I’m not a solo artist/designer/inventor,” he said. “I work with a lot of other people to bring these ‘humachines’ to life.”

He said he hopes visitors — children in particular — glean something about the importance of collaboration and being a team player from the exhibit.

“If you want to change the world,” he said, “you can’t do it alone.”

The exhibit also features a steampunk locomotive sculpture by the late Tim Little, who contributed a steampunk raptor sculpture to the “Dinosaurs in Motion” exhibit which ran earlier this year at the museum.

Tim Little’s locomotive sculpture. | Adam Forsgren,

“Discover Steampunk” open Friday, May 11, at the Museum of Idaho and runs through Jan. 6, 2019. Steampunk-related events are planned throughout the coming months. Visit the museum’s website for more information.