STEAM: Where History Past and Science Future Merge with Art — Explore it at Pawtucket Arts Festival Events

steamSteampunk is about books, stories, invention, science, and using your imagination to recreate the past and build the future with history in mind.

Steampunk is about costumes and the characters who wear them. It is a living art form, much like Renaissance fair and Revolutionary War re-enactments movements. For some it is a lifestyle. But in the world of Steampunk, your artist spirit can take liberty of direction both in style and form. You can be very authentic to a certain time such as 1885, the year the top hat was all the rage in Paris fashion. Or you can choose to float on airships in the sky as a pirate of another world. You can create dark moody characters bent on world domination or helpful societies that invent for the good of all mankind.

Steampunk is for some, like other creative genres, an escape to simpler living, or an open door to more advanced thinking than what we know now. For many, it is the hands-on aspect of invention and creation and taking assorted objects from past lives and blending them with concepts not yet seen, but believed to be tomorrow. It borrows from the rich historical past of the 1800s and the industrial revolution started in our own fair city of Pawtucket, and then jumps ahead of the 1960s space age to a yet unreached universe of exploration.


Steampunk is a world of curiosity about time and about machines, with robotic, kenetic and steam-driven mechanisms of all kinds coexisting on land, at sea or in the far reaches of space. It includes weapons of war and defense as are needed in perilous times and on adventures beyond.

Humankind wants to explore, to find new worlds, to reach for new ideas, to go beyond their current limitations. Yet they also romance the best of the past, be it peace time or a period of war, and are inclined to fantasize about traveling back there with fantastic time machines built to explore its farthest reaches. When given that chance in a community as broad in its approach as Steampunk, people feel free to let their imaginations travel well beyond current reality.

Steampunk has developed over the last 35 years from a small niche of fans favoring certain themes in books that merged science and history. It has grown in recognition as greater numbers of participants have adopted it or modified its themes as a way of self expression and a creative outlet. Today it can be found in comics, in graphic novels and in electronic and role playing games. There are writings. There are gatherings, picnics and festivals. It influenced recent movies such as Hugo, and became a trend that is aligned with other DIY groups such as makers, cos-players and comic book character costumers.

For the first time, the City of Pawtucket, during the Pawtucket Arts Festival month of September, plays host to a series of events inspired, influenced or participated in by the Steampunk community of New England.

Among those events, the leadership of Slater Mill Museum, encouraged by local Steampunk and Maker community members, pursued a course that led to the development of a new festival event with an opening on the first weekend at the Slater Mill Museum grounds.

SAM Fest was created to showcase the art and design product of the region’s fine craft, artisan and custom manufacture community; treasured antiques and architectural salvage; the work of young performing artists; and the architecture of Slater Mill’s historic structures. All their events are on the park grounds of Slater Mill in downtown Pawtucket. Various vendors of merchandise, goods and crafts related to the Steampunk lifestyle will be on hand to share their creative talents and skill sets. On Saturday and Sunday, September 6 and 7, Slater Mill will present SAMFEST~ Slater Ar(t)chitecture & Manufacture Festival in partnership with the Pawtucket Arts Festival.

With the museum park along the Blackstone River recently renovated, 7th Annual New England Steam Punk Picnic seemed a natural fit for the day’s activities. This opportunity for both participants and fans of fashion and history will gather and educate the public about Steampunk while building further community on September 6 from 11am to 8pm. Hosted by Ryan Grimm and friends, the games, costumes and characters roaming the grounds should add to the ambiance.

A five minute walk up Main Street will bring you to the former Grant department store, Pawtucket’s landmark version of a small arcade that houses 15 creative businesses. There, between 2 and 8pm, you will find the DAWN At The GRANT Gallery, run by a Rhode Island-based arts networking organization that is presenting the Red Fork Empire’s Embassy To Steampunk.  The Embassy exhibit will host a collection of creative elements, art works and unusual items representing a cross-section of the Steampunk community’s artistic imagination. Works by artists across the country will be on display. The exhibit will be open both September 6 and 20, when many Pawtucket Arts Festival events, open studios or marketplaces will be happening within the downtown area. Creativity will abound.

The Red Fork Empire (RFE) is a collective of people who want to express themselves creatively. DAWN Southern New England has a mission that includes providing venues or network opportunities for linking artists, galleries, creative micro-businesses and creative industries, while supporting artistic efforts and other organizations throughout the state of Rhode Island and the Coastal Region of Southern New England.

To bring September 6 to a beautiful close, the Slater Mill Museum has planned the Sam Steampunk Soiree with an evening by the river under a tent with stars up above, the river rushing, the timeless dancers of Chifferobe dancing and the music of Alec K Redfern and the Eyesores playing! Participants are welcome to attend dressed Steampunk-style or come as you are!

Your task is to come, play, participate and merge with the history, art and fun that is Steampunk. And of course, don’t forget your top hat.