You’ve heard of steampunk. You might even have a friend who’s into it. But do you really understand what the term means?
“The best description of it, short and sweet, is Victorian science fiction,” says Kelan Putbrese, also known as Artisan Kelan. “The name was penned by an author in the 1980s. He was writing about futuristic robots in the Victorian age. Steam refers to that period—everything was steam-driven—and punk got stuck in there because it was the 1980s.”
“A lot of artists do gear earrings, but they use little metal things stamped by the thousands in China,” he says. “I didn’t want to do that. I wanted the original. I found somebody in Latvia who gets old clocks from Russia, takes them apart, and sells the pieces. All of what he finds is from the first decade of the 1900s.”
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Putbrese says he got sidetracked for a few years after college, doing consulting work for the government around Washington, D.C. After years of being stuck in a cubicle, one particularly bad blizzard convinced him to move to Florida.
With the move came an opportunity to reimagine his career, so he decided to return to his passion and become a full-time artisan.
As he worked to build his creative business, Putbrese thought he might try making earrings. His studio mate and friend were nearby when he received the clock gears in the mail, and in about five minutes, he had designed the first pair.
“I held them up and they went, ‘Oooh, ahhh,’ and from there I was on my way,” he says.
The people who are drawn to the earrings have surprised him—they aren’t just for steampunk fans.
“I figured these would be interesting to just the younger crowd or people who go to conventions like Comic-Con,” says Putbrese, who also makes gadgets like lamps and alembics. “But almost right away, I found out that just about everybody likes them. I’ve sold them to a doctor and a vice president of a bank.” says Putbrese. “I don’t have some machine making them; these are pretty much one of a kind. The individuality really draws people.”
Steampunk has grown into a worldwide movement celebrating the Victorian era, and digging deeper into the name reveals some surprises. Many people don’t suspect that science plays a large role in the steampunk genre, but Putbrese describes the Victorian era as a time of exciting innovation.
“That’s when Einstein was coming out with his theories, and scientists were just beginning to discover atoms,” says Putbrese. “Computers were invented then. Authors were working with that information and then thinking of what they would be like in the future.”
Today, that spirit of innovation has captured the imaginations of people around the world. According to Putbrese, “At that time, everyone was forward-thinking. Anything was possible.”
Photos: Giovanny Gutierrez