Steampunk fans descend on Old Cowtown

11/13/2010 12:00 AM

11/14/2010 2:48 PM

Men traded in their cowboy hats for brass-framed goggles Saturday at Old Cowtown Museum, which for a day transformed into a world powered by steam.

The Emerald City Steampunk Expo was a one-day festival put on by Wolfmoon Productions, a scaled-down version of a three-day event planned for next year.

Steampunk is a growing movement that draws on science fiction and an alternate take on Victorian times, where flying ships and time machines exist.

The re-imagined late 1800s is technologically advanced, but everything is powered by steam, hydraulics, gears and cogs.

Saturday’s event was Wichita’s first steampunk convention. The Emerald City Steampunk Expo was originally planned to be three days and take place at Cowtown and the Hyatt Regency Wichita, but was scaled down to one day at Cowtown, said Randy Stuhlsatz of Wolfmoon Productions.

The steampunk movement started decades ago, but “it’s just now, forgive the pun, picking up steam,” Stuhlsatz said.

Steampunk enthusiasts dress in elaborate costumes featuring goggles, jewelry fashioned from watch parts and cogs and gears, and structured garments such as corsets.

It’s sort of Renaissance Faire-meets-“Mad Max.”

Michelle Grantz said she was drawn to the subculture because of the costumes. The Wichita resident said she’s a costume designer who finds steampunk “playing on my love of history, really.”

In this world, technology is advanced but not in the ways to which we are accustomed. There are computers, yes, but they run on 1800s technology.

Cowtown described the cornerstone of the steampunk movement as “taking modern inventions — the Internet, weaponry, clocks — and re-imagining how they would look had they been created with Victorian technology and materials.”

Grantz’s father, Ron Parker, also attended Saturday’ s event. He volunteers at Cowtown and donned goggles and pins made of gears to support his daughter’s interests, as well as Cowtown.

“Anything that helps the museum,” he said.

Teddie Barlow, assistant curator for Cowtown, said as many as 600 people might have stopped by during the day.

“It’s a perfect venue” for a steampunk convention, Barlow said of the museum, which gives visitors a peek at life in the 1870s.

Barlow noted that the convention was the first in the steampunk movement held at a venue such as Cowtown. The conventions typically are held at hotels.

Next year’s Emerald City Steampunk Expo is set for Nov. 4 to 6. Events on Nov. 4 will be at Cowtown, and events Nov. 5 and 6 are scheduled to be at the Hyatt.

Another one-day event is being considered for March, Stuhlsatz said.

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