1.- The interviewee
Based in Bellevue (Washington), Kevin is a prominent figure in the international Steampunk scene, awarded by his spreading role of the Steampunk current events and literature. Go ahead reading in order to learn more about Airship Ambassador, promising projects and much, much more…
2.- The interview
2.1.- About Steampunk… and Steampunk Jewelry
Kevin, there is no doubt that you are a leading figure of the Steampunk international scene. We do admire your dedication to spreading Steampunk, specially knowing that this is a one man project. Considering that you have a worldwide vision, we are most glad to count on your participation.
Q.- Tell us a bit about your project. When and why was Airship Ambassador born?
A.- Thank you for inviting me for this interview, I am very flattered! Airship Ambassador was born from a desire to participate more in the community. I was at the Nova Albion convention in March 2010, meeting friends and making new ones and when I was heading home, I thought I had something to contribute to the community and thought about the ways I could express that.
It started simply enough with a blog, and after a few essays about my thoughts on steampunk, I settled into a niche of interviewing people in the community. James Ng, who does Chinese steampunk artwork, was the first person I interviewed. I was enthralled by his artwork, which now hangs in my living room, and we’ve become good friends since then.
After that, there were authors, artists and convention organizers, among others, and there have been a few more essays and reviews. But the ideas didn’t stop there and started flowing constantly about what could be done and what I could do in the community.
That’s when the website started, about five months later. There were so many websites to track and I thought it would be handy to share them all in a central place for easy reference. From there, it just kept growing and growing and now that steampunk is so popular, it’s getting more challenging to keep up with the news and information each day.
There’s also a new BIG project from Airship Ambassador already in progress. Hopefully I will be able to share, and show, more in a few months.
While it is a fair bit of work to stay up to date and in touch with so many people, it really is very rewarding. I also work to make sure that Airship Ambassador has a global view and presence, but it is difficult to keep up with groups and activities around the world. I’ve been ‘meeting’ people around the world, and their help has been invaluable in learning more of what is happening.
And so a quick plug – I know there are steampunk communities all around the world, and I want to hear from you. If your group isn’t already listed on Airship Ambassador, please say hi and send along your information.
It has also been a lot of fun to learn much more about cities all over the world and hear people’s first hand accounts of living there. It’s one thing to read about a place or watch a documentary, but it is so much more vivid and personal to read someone’s letter and see their pictures. Whether it’s Hong Kong, Bucharest, Sydney, or Barcelona, that connection to other steampunks around the world makes it a bit smaller, a bit more neighborly, and a lot more connected.
Q.- Have you found big differences between the different Steampunk communities around the globe?
A.- There are some differences in expressions, although I think they are influenced by locale, culture and opportunity. There are some great pictures from steampunks around the world showing that variety in the amazing outfits that people create, including items and designs from their experiences, their heritage, and their other interests. It has been wonderful to see the personal spin people put into their work from every country in the world.
Beyond that, however, at the heart of it all, I find steampunks to be much more similar in nature than different. In my readings and travels, I have met some really great people in our community – kind, caring, generous, thoughtful, helpful, and above all, very, very creative. I am very grateful for the new friends I have met, and expect to still meet, along the way. I have had the opportunity to learn many things from people, and for me, that learning and sharing with others has been a great addition to my life.
Q.- Do you think that these differences could be reflected on the jewelry field?
A.- Most definitely, yes! Jewelry has such a long and varied history, thousands of years, which provides a treasure trove of influences and inspirations, and in every age, there are technological developments, shifts in perspectives and thought, and an ever-growing creative awareness which all drive new ideas of what could be done.
In the steampunk community, we see this in jewelry and accessories of all kinds, functions, and materials. There are rings, cufflinks, and pins made from clock parts, gears, and filigree. There are flora and fauna born of metal, wood, and shell, and there are wholly unique items re-created from salvaged parts of all kinds.
Steampunks are definitely a group who see beyond the primary use and intent of something and can imagine what ‘could be’. Personally, I’m always on the lookout for new additions to my collection of cuff links and jacket pins, although earrings wouldn’t go amiss.
Q.- But, let’s start from the beginning. From your point of view, what’s Steampunk jewelry?
A.- For me, personally, I think steampunk jewelry would express and connote the aesthetic and ideas of steampunk – 19th century designs (filigree and scrollwork) or re-used items found in that time (gears, artwork), combined in a way that evokes a feeling of something old but in a shiny new way.
Q.- Would you dare to describe Steampunk jewelry with a single word?
Creativity is the word I keep coming back to, but it is what drives everything about steampunk and it is something that is visually and viscerally expressed in jewelry. Our personal adornment not only attracts the attention of others, not only reinforces an image that we wish to project, but also provides a small glimpse into who we are as an individual. It talks about our interests and what we wish to share about ourselves. Everything we wear, from the flashy “Look At Me!” piece to the deeply personal sentimental item, whispers some aspect of ourselves.
Q.- We have previously mentioned the different nuances of the Steampunk communities around the world. Communities gather in conventions, in fact you keep updated a fabulous map with national and international Steampunk conventions. Do you have a favorite event? Do you think that these events can become important for Steampunk jewelers?
A.- There are so many great events around the world and I wish I could attend each and everyone one of them. As it is, though, there are budget and time limitations which cruelly conspire to keep me from doing so. There isn’t any one favorite event, although there are several I enjoy regular attendance, and even more that I look forward to.
It looks like I will only be able to attend the European Steampunk Convention virtually, and I also must admit feeling some longing and disappointment when I’ve seen pictures from events in Spain, Italy, and Brazil. It would be fun, and personally rewarding, to attend those events across the pond. One day, hopefully.
As for steampunk jewelry, I’d say that every steampunk event is a good event for jewelry, whether it is being displayed or vended. It all becomes a chance for people to see what is possible, and at all times, serves as an inspiration for each of us to wonder ‘what if’. Also, if vendors are able to travel to new areas, then they’ll bring and introduce their unique design style to a whole new audience. Everyone wants to have something unique.
Q.- Regular publications such as magazines or newspapers are valuable resources to keep a united community. Which Steampunk publications would you recommend to our readers? Do you think that traditional advertising in printed media is still useful in the 21st Century?
A.- There is a wild and growing selection of blogs, forums and media for people to choose from, each meeting a different need for people. Airship Ambassador focuses on daily news and weekly interviews. Steampunk Scholar has insightful book reviews and commentary. Silver Goggles and Beyond Victoriana discuss multiculturalism.
In addition to the Brass Goggles and Steampunk Empire forums, there are Rauchersalon, French Steampunk, and Golden Gear.
For periodicals, there’s El Investigador, Exhibition Hall, and the re-launched Steampunk Magazine.
Advertising and promotion is still necessary for any individual, group and business trying to get their message out and attract followers, but it’s only as effective as its medium. Print newspapers are clearly losing ground in the face of continuing digital migration. Magazines come and go, but do seem to find a loyal niche readership. Digital publications have greater accessibility and immediacy but someone still needs to see an article or advertisement before it can be effective in communicating a message and accomplishing any other goal.
We are constantly bombarded by advertising of all kinds, and while we may want to shut it all out, what many people would appreciate is targeted useful information that addresses their specific needs and wants. Targeted marketing is big business, and vendors want to spend their money wisely. Having millions of people see an ad isn’t worth a penny if no one buys the product but a targeted promotion aimed at a known group of potentially interested consumers, that could be gold.
Q.- Steampunk literature is one of your main fields of expertise. A piece of jewelry plays an essential role in the plot of The Gold Bug, the unforgettable short story written by the American master Edgar Alan Poe. Do you remember any other book in which jewelry has a prominent role?
A.- Hmm, that’s a tough one. Growing up, the most interesting bit of jewelry I’ve heard of in a story would have been the ring containing poison, attributed to Lucrezia Borgia, although I’m not sure how true that really is. I suppose there is the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. It was a pendant for awhile before being used again as the staff headpiece, and it certainly was an integral clue to the characters search.
The only other actual jewelry in a story that I can speak to would be the Heart of the Ocean, that blue diamond necklace in the movie Titanic. Here, the necklace drives characters in different ways and represents different things to each person. For one, it’s a treasure to be recovered and finding it would be vindication of his beliefs. For another, it was a reminder of another life, which was rejected, and a motivator to live one’s own life on one’s own terms.
Q.- The Gold Bug has just reminded us that the Victorian era was a time of archaeological expeditions. Could Egyptology become a major source of inspiration for Steampunk jewelers? Which other inspiration sources would you suggest?
A.- Egyptology should always be a source of inspiration! Aside from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, dinosaurs, and the original Star Trek series, one of my key interests as a young boy was ancient Egypt. I was intrigued by the pyramids, the hieroglyphics, and the exquisite craftsmanship in all things. My parents took my sister and I to see the King Tut exhibit when it first came to the United States in the ‘70s and that was an impressionable and memorable experience to see the exhibits up close. A new King Tut exhibit has just opened in Seattle and I’m looking forward to getting my ticket to enjoy the wonder again in person.
Archaeology, discovery, and Egyptology was very popular in the nineteenth century, although not always with the most noble of intentions or methods. Whether in revealing or in plundering, the richness of Egyptian artwork was shared around the world. Exquisite craftsmanship, quality workmanship, and stunning design styles have been (mostly) preserved and displayed for cultural benefit.
Looking at other ancient cultures, Aztec, Mayan and other pro-Columbian design could be quite impressive. Less ancient but still long lived and remembered would be Asian, African and Indian. How could those styles be used appropriately, without appropriation? What forms could steampunk jewelry take using those aesthetics and sensibilities as a foundation? What ring, pin, or pendant could an Ambassador wear to show honor, homage and respect, as well as wearing something totally awesome?
Q.- Archaeology, heritage… some jewelry pieces have passed on from generation to generation. When Steampunk jewelry is brought up, do you think quality is receiving attention enough?
A.- As a collector and antiquarian, quality is an important, even essential, aspect of an item. I grew up in a home filled with antiques which were valued not only because they were old but also because they were usable. They were quality items, designed and built to last, and treated with respect and care.
While some steampunk items are treated as mere costumery and thus short lived, I do not think it is inappropriate to set an expectation of long lasting quality for steampunk jewelry. Those items need not be worn only with steampunk outfits for occasional events; it would be nice to see those pieces used in everyday wear and use.
Also, there’s nothing worse for a steampunk outfit than to get a new bit of jewelry and have it fall apart during its first wearing. Personal experience, sadly. I bought this great pin only the have the center stone fall off within the hour, then the pin itself broke off from the shield. It was really disappointing.
Q.- May jewelry for men be recovering the importance that it had in other periods of History?
A.- Jewelry for men seems to come and go, and take different forms. Sometimes it’s all flashy and overdone, sometimes it’s classy and elegant. Right now, I don’t see a lot of jewelry on men, aside from wedding and commitment rings, watches, and the occasional earring. It would be nice to see men’s jewelry return to prominence again, not as a show of wealth or power, but as a sign of elegance, of personal grooming and care, of respect for others, of presenting an image which says not only “I want to look good” but also “I want to look good for YOU”.
I used to have a watch for each day of the week, but when the battery would wear out, I was slow to get a new one. When the band broke on the last watch, I stopped wearing one altogether.
With my steampunk outfits, though, I’ve been adding jewelry back into the mix and image. I still don’t wear a watch, yet, but my Mom has passed along two of her rings to me, one from my grandmother, both of which I enjoy wearing as a special addition to my outfits. The other thing I really enjoy wearing out, and trying to wear daily now, are cufflinks. Certainly they’ve gone out of style in the last few decades, except for formal fashions, but I’ve really enjoyed building a new collection of them, not just for my steampunk wear but also for my everyday office wear.
Maybe it’s because no one else is wearing them, maybe it’s because of how I feel wearing them, maybe it’s just because they are kind of cool, speaking from another age, but I certainly do enjoy wearing them and rotating through them so I get to wear each set.
Q.- Is there anything else you would like to add?
A.- Thank you for inviting me for this interview, and your support of Airship Ambassador. I’ve enjoyed talking with you about the intersection of steampunk and jewelry. I hope everyone finds at least one piece that really speaks to them to add to their own steampunk wear, and that all of us can support the artists who are bringing us new works that speak to our appreciation and sensibilities for something old.
Disclaimer.- The opinions or statements expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Decimononic.
3.- Next interviewee!
On the 15th of July , we are publishing the interview for Jenny Schwartz. Jenny is an Australian author, happily abusing her history degree by writing steampunk. Her setting for “The Bustlepunk Chronicles” is also her hometown, Perth. There’s a lot of history in Perth and a tradition of tall tales. Steampunk fits right in!
Remember that all the published interviews are available for your delight: ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ the brief interviews series by Decimononic.