Over 1000 people of all ages donned Victorian fashion mixed with sci-fi gadgetry and converged at the Town & Country hotel during the May 3–5 third-annual Gaslight Gathering steampunk convention. Attendees were welcome to participate in informative panels that included the Hot Potato School of Writing by Drake & McTrowell, Technological Fancies of the Victorian Age, and Steampunk Maker Supplies 101.
Workshops were available that ran the gamut from crafting goggles and metalworking to making corsets and bustles. Another fun activity was perusing the artisan vendor hall, which was filled with embellished household items, custom clothing made out of leather, felt, cotton, and silk, and hand-crafted jewelry, canes, lamps, and top hats. In addition, a steamy art show was on display that contained steampunk-themed art showing fully-clothed and half-clothed women, mysterious technological gadgets, and several works by guest of honor Brian Kesinger.
Next door to the art show was a room that hosted a fancy high-tea party on Saturday, a rowdy Pirate Rum Party Saturday night, and a high-tea/fashion show on Sunday. Other nighttime entertainment included two Friday-night concerts (one featuring Tribal Baroque and another with Steam Powered Giraffe followed by Lee Presson and the Nails) and a Time Traveler's Ball on Saturday.
A display called “Islands in the Steam” consisted of a stunning “Steam-Powered Marvelous Miniaturizing Shrink Ray” and 13 hand-crafted miniature island dioramas. Kim Hutsell, who has served as shop chairman of the San Diego Lapidary Society for the past eight years and is senior courier for the Starburner Galactic Courier Service, was the lead designer and fabricator of the device. The following is a condensed interview with Mr. Hutsell (aka Lithobius Quick):
What inspired you to create the shrink ray?
The shrink ray was really an essential part of the overall story. Given that the theme for Gaslight Gathering III was "Traveling the Seven Seas," I had to come up with an idea that would make sense. The first thing that popped into my head was "Islands in the Steam," a play on Ernest Hemingway's novel, Islands in the Stream. As the set design began to take shape in my mind, it was obvious that everything had to tie into the Victorian Era. So, it made perfect sense. Victorians loved their curio cabinets. They loved showing off all their latest acquisitions from far-off exotic places, and how better to illustrate that than "traveling the Seven Seas" and actually collecting bits of real estate? And...how better to accomplish that than with the latest and greatest in shrink-ray technology mounted in the belly of your airship? So, the "build" would consist of a contraption representing a shrink ray surrounded by a selection of "collected" islands.
What is it made from?
As with most steampunk contraptions, the shrink ray was pulled together from a rather large pool of spare parts, including the ever-handy lamp parts, candle holders, rock tumblers, fireplace irons, and anything else that was lying around. A number of large items were at the core of the shrink ray...a friend loaned us a wood-burning stove to use as the firebox, the operator's chair was a swap-meet purchase, and the pedestals (one for the shrink ray and one for the control panel) were table legs gleaned from sidewalk recycling.
How functional is the shrink ray?
The functional part of the shrink ray was minimal due to time constraints. The functional parts...the parts that actually did something were limited to lights and switches on the primary and secondary control panels, The gear-shift box, the fire in the fire box, the articulated arm supporting the shrink ray, itself, the Inglis Range Finder, the Gravity Floccinaucinihilipilificationator, and the two sector switches/levers. There was also a telegraph key for signaling the bridge and a small candle gimbal.
What happens to the shrink ray now?
Now that Gaslight Gathering 3 is over, the shrink ray will be consigned to history; In other words, if there are no specific requests to show it elsewhere, it will be broken down for parts to be used in the next project.
How long have you been into steampunk?
My official involvement in what's now called steampunk began in 2007. However, I've been a maker my entire life...I just didn't know what it was called. The thing is, just being a maker isn't enough to be called steampunk. It is doing things a certain way, looking at things through a particular pair of goggles, so to speak. It is the attitude, the fascination with the last half of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th Century. It's the lingering interest in heavy mechanics, the aesthetics of well-crafted, useful items of glass, brass, and hardwood. It is the appreciation of things made by people who cared about the quality of what they made.
According to an IBM press release from January, steampunk will be fashion's biggest trend during 2013-2015, so now's the time to get started on your outfit for Gaslight Gathering 4 — the weekend of May 2-4, 2014!