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Steampunk exhibit draws hundreds over month-long stay at the Alwun House

The Alwun House at 12th and Roosevelt streets has played host to a month-long exhibit of steampunk. The exhibit ends tonight with an event featuring live performances related to the sci-fi genre. (Mauro Whiteman/DD)

Mechanical butterflies. Wheelchairs that run on coal. Robots in top hats and monocles. It sounds like something out of a Jules Verne novel. Just don’t call it Star Trek.

The Alwun House on Roosevelt and 12th streets will close a month-long exhibit of steampunk tonight with an event including live performances and readings of several sci-fi short stories by Edgar Allen Poe.

Fans of the genre known as steampunk are very particular about their brand of fantasy. Imagine the refined romanticism of the Victorian era and combine it with the gritty inventiveness of the industrial revolution. Add elements of science fiction and you get steampunk.

This mixture of classical beauty and heavy metal was first referred to as steampunk in the early 1980s, and since then has developed a cult following. Phoenix is no exception.

The Alwun House opened in 1971, located on Roosevelt Street and 12th Avenue, making it the oldest center for the performing arts in Arizona. Alwun House Foundation President Dana Johnson likes to exhibit original and unique types of art.

Steampunk was a relatively new concept for him, Johnson said, but he enjoys getting to know it.

“I can really see the appeal,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of intrigue surrounding that era because it was like the world was on the verge of modern invention … there is a lot to imagine.”

Johnson, along with Alwun House Foundation founder Kim Moody, was shocked when opening day of the steampunk exhibition arrived and nearly 200 people showed up.

“We definitely aren’t used to that kind of traffic,” Moody said. “We’re lucky to get maybe 50 to 60 people when we hold special events.”

Of the 200 participants that arrived, more than half of them came in elaborate costumes, displaying the various styles and gadgets of steampunk, Johnson said.

Brock Smith, 24, a resident of Mesa and longtime fan of steampunk enjoys this particular type of science fiction because it not only allows you to use your imagination, but it contains a lot of historical fact.

“Buried in between all of the crazy machines and characters and weapons, there are actually a lot of real facts and inventions.”

Smith’s Halloween costume from last year looks like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Han Solo.

“There’s no rule saying you have to stick to a certain timeline,” Smith said. “What’s important is that (steampunk) looks realistic, while still maintaining that fantastic aspect.”

That can be a strange and difficult combination to perfect. For those who consider themselves artists in the steampunk community, realism and wild creativity are absolutely necessary.

Mitch, Ben and Casey Brose, also known as the Brose Brothers, have been making steampunk clothing, weapons and art for more than a year. Their work, which included a steam-powered rifle and a mechanical arm, was displayed at the Alwun House.

Gears, copper, cogs and brass are key elements in the Brose brothers’ art, which resembles the Wild West, only with cowboys that are robotic, not human.

Another artist, Kay Kemp, took a different approach to her display. A top hat with a built-in clock and a treasure chest converted into a “time machine” were among her pieces of art.

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