The Fairhaven Steampunk Festival began four years ago to honor Caleb Kors, who was active in the Bellingham Circus Guild and died in an accident in 2012 at the age of 10. The event, subtitled Mr. Flip’s Carnival of Wonders & Curiosities, has become an annual event, says R. Bobbie Wiley, festival coordinator.
“Each year we provide an opportunity for his family and friends to share his memory,” Wiley says. “It is his memory that draws some of us here. Many feel his spirit — the sense of ‘I truly belong in this place, this moment, this now,’ and ‘Look at me, how wonderful I can be!’ — at this festival.
“For others,” she says, “this is more simply an opportunity to explore the history of Bellingham, to connect with steampunk community, to listen to authors, musicians, and children’s delight on a summer afternoon in a lovely park full of lovely people.”
The festival is noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 25, at Fairhaven Village Green, 10th Street and Mill Avenue.
Steampunk, Wiley explains, celebrates Victorian-era culture; the dress, style, food, machinery, and the fascination with wonders and curiosities. Steampunk has taken that fascination beyond the literary genre into art, music, costuming, recreation of history, and even into the repurposing of the ‘throw away’ modern world.
The festival brings music and performers, costumers and creators, authors and foodies, together with a community that embraces and encourages difference.
“Steampunk allows people to set free, unbounded, the expression of their inner personalities,” Wiley says.
Most activities are free. In addition to the music and performances on stage and the activities on the green (Trevor the Sword Guy takes on all comers — oh, be gentle, please!, Wiley warns), Bellingham’s Foundry MakerSpace and the Inner Child Studio have been added to the festival this year.
Two ticketed events also have been added: mini-tours and pub strolls by Bellingham’s Bureau of Historical Investigation; and Lady Theodora’s Steampunk Orphan Society Tea.
Seattle’s Nathaniel Johnstone Band, Circus Guild performer Strangely (a good friend of Kors), and flutist Peter Ali are among the performers. At Village Books, authors Phil and Kaja Foglio (of Girl Genius fame) join Langley Hyde and Jeffery Cook.
There will be a “Steampunk Classic Rides” exhibition, a costume contest with prizes from local merchants, buskers, and craft, art and food vendors.
Jason Davies, co-founder of the Foundry MakerSpace, which opened last September, says he often sees steampunk-related items being made at the workspace, such as a 3D printed clockwork-style beetle, leather crafts, laser-cut gears, and Victorian-era sewing projects.
Foundry members have interests, and there is a strong contingent who enjoy cosplay and costume-making, he says.
“Steampunk is a great genre for makers because most of the characters are dreamt up by the cosplayers themselves, not copied from a movie or TV show.”
The festival is important to the community, Davies says, because although there is a thriving steampunk culture across the Internet, with many representatives in Whatcom County, an event is needed to draw them together in real life.
“Additionally, thinking about historical fiction helps readers connect with the past in a way that memorizing actual dates and names cannot,” he says. “It adds spice and depth to nonfiction history and can inspire people to learn more about different time periods.”
Langley Hyde, author of “Highfell Grimoires,” agrees that steampunk is more than an aesthetic and, despite its name, more than a fascination with steam-driven engines. It’s also an interest in the “what-ifs” of history.
She adds that Bellingham boomed in the late 19th century, the same era celebrated by members of the steampunk community.
“The late 1800s marked explosive innovation in science and industry across the globe that profoundly shaped modern culture,” Hyde says. “The literature of the time explored what it meant to exist, to love and to live, among such profound changes when the world still seemed full with possibility.
“To some extent, the nostalgia of steampunk reflects our own dynamic times, a way of understanding what we are today through all the paths that we didn’t take.”