Interview with Katherine Gleason

This week we are talking with Katherine Gleason, author of Anatomy of Steampunk.

 

Airship Ambassador: Hi Katherine, it’s great to have this time to catch up with you.

Katherine Gleason: Hi, there, Kevin and everyone out there. Thanks for having me and thanks for your interest in my work!

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AA: Before we discuss the gorgeous content within the pages, what is this book about?

KG: Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism centers on contemporary fashion artists from all over the world who create within a retro-futurist aesthetic. The book is an inspirational look book—there are more than 200 color photos inside, and a how-to text, as it contains ten DIY projects for readers to try at home.

 

AA: What was the motivation for creating Anatomy?

KG: My previous book was about fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s runway shows. Delving into his work, I became fascinated with the way that fashion can intersect with contemporary art and performance and with art history. McQueen often used a Victorian or Edwardian silhouette. So, I started looking at neo-Victorian and Edwardian fashions. I was also drawn to the conversation that a lot of steampunks are having about our relationship to machines and technology, about consumerism and throw-away goods.

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AA: Aside from that drive for the project, what other personal aspects drove the work or otherwise made their way into it?

KG: Many of the books I’ve written involve spotlighting other people, their projects, and creativity. I love learning about the work of my interview subjects, hearing about their methods, ideas, and working practices. Then I love sharing the cool stuff that I’ve learned with readers. With this particular book, I wanted to make sure to represent the diversity of steampunk and to include steampunk practitioners from all over the world.

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AA: With so much variety to choose from, what were your guidelines to choose initial entries? How were you able to whittle it down to the final selections?

KG: It was hard! And I was lucky that I had amazing people to help me. I think the biggest whittling factor was time. We were working with a very tight deadline. Sadly some of the individuals I contacted were not able to work within our time constraints. What’s particularly sad to me is that some of the designers that are not in the book are absent from the book because they had so much of their own design work that they did not have time for interviews and getting us photos.

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AA: That’s so often the situation with busy people! What kind of research went into creating Anatomy? How and where did you find all these great people? It’s great that you named the various models, and many of those names will be familiar in the steampunk community.

KG: Very early in my research process, I had tea with Catherine Siemann, who’s an English professor and a member of the steering committee of The New York Nineteenth Century Society. The society has a fashion show every year. So, Catherine gave me a bunch of ideas for designers I should consider, and she suggested that I look at Diana Pho’s blog, Beyond Victoriana, which I did, and then she introduced me to Diana. (If you don’t know Diana and her work, you totally should! In addition to writing and editing the multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana, she blogs about steampunk on Tor.com, writes academic articles about steampunk, and presents panels and info sessions at cons nationwide. Also she has some great steampunk outfits!) My editorial team hired Diana as a consultant; she and I worked on lists of designers and sent each other lots of photos. And then we had her write the introduction to the book, which I think does a super job of setting the stage for the reader. With regard to the models, we really wanted to credit everyone who was part of making the images we used—models, makeup artists, photographers, clothing designers. (In the book’s credits, if I left anyone out, please let me know! I’m keeping a list of corrections for when the book goes into reprint.)

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AA: Looking at some specific images, what can you tell us about the outfit with the Black Garden corset on page 28 ?

KG: I do love that photo! Black Garden is an online shop based in Poland. They have customers all over the world. Black Garden sells custom made goods, ready-made pieces, and some vintage and second hand items as well. They also carry a lot of Goth and industrial fashions in addition to steampunk. Lady Ardzesz is the seamstress who sews the made-to-order clothes, like the corset, bolero jacket, and skirt that are displayed in the photo you mention. When last I talked to Angelika Jakóbik, who owns and runs Black Garden, she was hoping to open a brick and mortar store as well.

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AA: How about Kristi Smart‘s work on pages 48-49 and 124-125? I’m one of the many admirers and collectors of her jackets.

KG: Kristi Smart! Kristi Smart! I love, love her jackets, and I’m so happy that her work is in the book. I have to say the photos of her black coat with the silkscreen design (on pages 48 and 49) are among my favorite images in the book. And we were so luck to get these pictures. I’d seen a small image of this coat on Kristi’s website, and I was intrigued. But she didn’t have any larger pictures of the coat, and she’d already sold it. Lucky for us she’d sold it to a collector of her work who let her borrow the coat back for a quick photo shoot. We were luckier still that her neighbor Lucia Loiso, who is a professional photographer, was available to shoot on such short notice and that Ari Giancaterino, who is another neighbor, modeled for us. I’m so very pleased with how the images turned out! And I want to thank Kristi and Lucia and Ari again for accommodating us and our crazy schedule!

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AA: And Maurice Grunbaum‘s work on pages 146-147? I’ve long admired his work and have asked him on occasion how he’s created some of it.

KG: Maurice’s work is fascinating! I keep imagining what his workroom must look like. I picture shelves and shelves of flea market treasures. I’ve spent long periods staring at the photo on 147, trying to figure out what all the elements are made from, trying to count the sea shells on his mask and gauntlet. I’d love to see this outfit in person. I was fortunate to encounter some of Maurice’s work live. He had a different gauntlet and mask in a show that came to New York and was displayed at the Agnès B. gallery and boutique on Howard Street in Manhattan.

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AA: I know it’s going to be tough, but which outfit is your favorite and why?

KG: Oh, wow…. that is difficult. I’m going to have to say that my favorite is the Festooned Butterfly ensemble that Diana is modeling on page 21. One reason is that I have seen this outfit in person. And it is swell! I also really love the way it brings together layers of culture and history. Angie Carter, the designer, based this ensemble on an image that she found in Harper’s Magazine from the mid-nineteenth century. The Harper’s illustration is an example of the chinoiserie that was popular starting in the 1850s in Europe. Basically Europeans started imitating Asian designs in this period. They were also importing a lot of goods from Asia. Anyhow, in addition to starting with a nineteenth century chinoiserie design, this Festooned Butterfly dress is made from sari silk, and it incorporates Chinese and Japanese design elements.

 

We’ll stop here in our chat with Katherine Gleason, author of Anatomy of Steampunk.

Check back for part 2 where Katherine talks about fun times, lessons learned, and next steps.

 

Published in: on March 16, 2014 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Steamcon Announces Closure

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Steamcon, one of the longest continually running steampunk convention, and one of the largest, announced Sunday, March 9th on Facebook that they were no longer a viable organization.

“It is with profound regret and sadness that I must announce that Steamcon in no longer a viable organization. Our debts are too great a hurdle for us to overcome. Based on my calculations, somewhere between 25% and 40% of the funds that we would raise for Steamcon VI will go towards paying off Steamcon V. The board has been wrestling with these economic realities for several weeks now, and voted one week ago to dissolve the corporation.

Since the meeting of January 12th, where we laid out the economic problems that we faced, we have had thirty five people purchase memberships. ( That works out to about one membership every other day. ) We have had three people donate to the CD fundraiser project. ( That is, one and a half donations per month. ) In order to raise the amount of money that we need to stave off bankruptcy, we need 390 memberships in 29 days. Just to tread water.

We could soldier on. We could attempt to raise $15,000 in 29 days. But if we once again fail, that will mean that even more people will be out money. I cannot in good faith recommend that course of action.”

Steamcon wasn’t just my ‘home’ convention, being held in the Seattle area, it was also a convention of Firsts for myself and quite a few others.

While it wasn’t the first solely steampunk themed convention, following Salon Con, which ran from 2006-2008, and Steam Powered in 2008, Steamcon was the most well attended convention (aside from Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey, which has a much different format and more of a music/performance focus) as well as the longest consecutively running US steampunk convention (2009-2013) (Weekend at the Asylum in the UK has also been going since September 2009).

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Steamcon I, held in October 2009 at the Marriott by Sea-Tac International Airport, was originally planned and budgeted for 400-600 people. Clearly meeting a need, over 1,000 people (and I’m somewhat remembering that it was closer to 1,200) attended, creating an hours-long at-the-door registration line. The weekend was packed with programming – panels with Author Guest of Honor Tim Powers, the presentation of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, discussions on the history of Victorian clothing, a concert by Abney Park, and so much more!

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Steamcon II brought James Blaylock to the stage, and premiered the Steamcon Airship Awards. Here are other pictures from the gallery.

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Steamcon III saw the steampunk triumvirate completed with K.W. Jeter participating in the convention as the event outgrew the Marriott and moved to the Hyatt in Bellevue. The Steamcon Airship Awards continued.

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Steamcon IV enjoyed the company of artist Joe Benitez and the concert by Rasputina.

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Steamcon V brought artist Brian Kessinger and author S.M. Stirling into the programming, and saw the return of Abney Park. The vendor room was the largest it had ever been, and the expanded Art Show as engaging as ever.

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Through it all, there were awards, fashion shows, tea parties, room parties, dozens of music performances, hundreds of panelists, thousands of attendees, and several thousand outfits. It was the big city of steampunk conventions, bringing together people from every corner of the community – literature, art, fashion, music, and even philosophy. Whatever an attendee was looking for, they were bound to find it. It brought people together, created experiences for them, and there will be lasting memories and stories to tell.

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Personally, Steamcon was my first steampunk convention, and given that it was practically in my backyard, I couldn’t NOT go, especially having followed the growth of interest and the community for decades, before it even had a name or coherent following. Steamcon I is where I bought my first coat, where I met new friends and colleagues, and where I started a new shelf for all of the books I couldn’t live without. It was also the start of me getting back out into the world after personal loss and tragedy.

Steamcon was where I roomed with Mike Perschon, the Steampunk Scholar (now the Speculative Scholar), partly because it was the only way for us to catch up on things and start a tradition of talking until 3am almost every night. It was where I participated in programming and doing live interviews and panels.

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There was always an exciting energy at Steamcon. I was always able to arrive and get settled at the hotel while it was still “just a hotel”, filled with other people with their own stories. Attendees would start to trickle in, some local, some who traveled, some reunions, some new meetings. Meeting rooms and ballrooms were being cleared, cleaned and set up, convention materials were unloaded. The energy and anticipation started to build. There were lobby conversations and drinks in the bar.

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Friday morning excitement started early – people were already in their finery, heading out for breakfast, or a promenade around the hotel’s common areas. People were arriving in a steady stream, the construction running faster to be done before the doors opened. Vendors carting in their goods, Artwork being unwrapped for the art show. It was showtime before the official Show Time!

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And then, after all the build up of anticipation, we were off like a rollercoaster! The stream of attendees was a torrent, the panels began in multiple tracks, and the activity would continue nonstop until it was suddenly Sunday afternoon and people were saying good bye. A whirlwind of outfit changes, pictures, conversations, and never enough sleep fueled conversations for days, even weeks. It was a tired but contented trip home for so many people, carrying with them the Steamcon spirit.

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There isn’t Steamcon VI to look forward to this fall, but as co-founder Diana Vick shared on Facebook –

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Published in: on March 9, 2014 at 7:19 pm  Comments (5)