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An ageless aesthetic
Kevin Lindholm is a tinkerer — the kind of guy who's intrigued by the inner workings of an old watch face, the tiniest parts, the stuff nobody sees. He doesn't mind taking a thing apart to see how it works, how it might go back together again.
When he discovered Steampunk, it was instant inspiration.
Steampunk is a blanket term for fiction, music and aesthetics based on a world where steam is the power of the day (think 19th century or Victorian-era England) and fictional inventions (think H. G. Wells or Jules Verne) really exist.
This is a world “before the age of homogenization and micro-machinery, before the tyrannous efficiency of internal combustion and the domestication of electricity,” a place with “beautiful, monstrous machines that lived and breathed and exploded unexpectedly at inconvenient moments,” according to Steampunk Magazine, a publication that promotes the culture of Steampunk.
So, Lindholm takes modern utilitarian objects — a computer keyboard, a flash drive — and gives them a pseudo-Victorian upgrade. Castaway watch parts become mechanical pendants or rings, the tiniest parts tipped with sparkling rubies. A desktop computer becomes a Victorian-typing machine with typewriter keys and polished brass that look stylishly vintage.
“But it's brand-new technology. It's totally cool,” Lindholm says.
And Steampunk is a growing artistic and aesthetic scene.
In 2008, multimedia artist and sculptor Paul St. George created a video installation linking London and Brooklyn, New York City, in a Victorian era-styled telectroscope. Evelyn Kriete, a blogger with the Web site Brass Goggles, organized a trans-Atlantic wave by Steampunk enthusiasts from both cities.
And this month, the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford opened a major exhibition of Steampunk art objects.
As a business, it isn't the most lucrative.
Even at $500 — the price one of his works can fetch on eBay — Lindholm is not making much money here.
A single keyboard takes at the very least 25 hours of work.
Each key — there are 108 — must be removed and sheered down with wirecutters, its space padded with felt and painted, before being replaced with vintage typewriter keys. It takes five sets of old keys, and each key must be taken apart and remade by hand (remember, there's no Crtl key on a typewriter).
Then there's the painting and antiquing and brass or copper finishing.
It's a lot of work. And it's tedious.
But Lindholm is creating one-of-a-kind pieces, and hopes to show people that objects can have real, intrinsic value, something beyond the $20 piece of plastic he starts with.
Plus, he's always making something anyway. It's what tinkerers do.
“I love making this shit.”