Steampunk chugs, spins, and whirs its way into the Morris Museum

'The Buddha' by Walter Rossi, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'The Buddha' by Walter Rossi, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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By Marion Filler

Murtogh D. Guinness probably would have felt right at home at Simply Steampunk, the new exhibit of phantasmagorical kinetic art at the Morris Museum in Morris Township.

After all, the show is inspired by a bequest of 750 antique mechanical musical instruments and automated figures collected by the Guinness heir and given to the museum in 2003, a year after his death at age 89.

What exactly is Steampunk?

It’s science and fantasy on steroids, where Victorian aesthetics meet Punk. It’s both a rejection and a celebration of technology, exalting the handmade over mass production. It’s fun, and dress-up, and a little kooky.

Video: A look at ‘Simply Steampunk’:

“We’re not just normal re-enactors, we’re fantasy enthusiasts,”  “Azcordelia Quinn” said at last week’s opening reception.

Steampunks Azcordelia Quinn and Mark Staplins at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Steampunks Azcordelia Quinn and Mark Staplins at ‘Simply Steampunk’ at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

In real life, she’s known as Coral Russeau, an Allentown, PA, graphics designer of slot machines. But her passion is Steampunk Expo, a group that organizes gatherings around the country.

According to Quinn, the community has 100,000 followers. Some of them are expected to participate in an Expo from May 17-19, 2019m at the Sheraton Hotel in Parsippany.

The Morris Museum show, which runs through Aug. 11, 2019, showcases 18 works by a dozen artists, from as far away as Oregon and Texas.  They were chosen by a jury of steampunk aficionados.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click / hover on images for captions:
'The Buddha' by Walter Rossi, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Education Director Kathy Francis with 'The Going' by Walter Rossi, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'Orion Lumia' by Will Rockwell, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the M
Selfie booth at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown artist Kenneth MacBain with 'Wedding Ring,' at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'Professor Ignatius and Assistants Flee the Citadel,' by LoHiFi Productions, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Steampunks Azcordelia Quinn and Mark Staplins at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Patron studies 'Tink, The Northern Pike,' by David Bowman, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'Deliriums : Cluster B' by Matthew Steinke, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Gabby Campbell and Julie Day of West Orange gaze at 'Deliriums: Cluster C,' by Matthew Steinke, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Selfie booth at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Selfie booth at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Museum Executive Director Cleveland Johnson at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Chief Curator Ron Labaco at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Selfie booth at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Visitor studies 'Tink, The Northern Pike,' by David Bowman, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Visitor studies ‘Tink, The Northern Pike,’ by David Bowman, at ‘Simply Steampunk’ at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

It’s the second installment in a four-year series called A Cache of Kinetic Art, meant to complement the intricate, ornate 19th-century music boxes and automota in the museum’s permanent Guinness Collection.

Last year’s inaugural show, Curious Characters, hinted at things to come with mechanical creations ranging from whimsical to spooky.

Simply Steampunk features bizarre musical instruments that seem to have demented minds of their own, and parachuting copper men with pterodactyl wings, and an undulating fish that definitely is full of heavy metals.

“The whole exhibition has different interpretations of kinetic art,” said Morristown artist Kenneth MacBain, who teaches design at New Jersey City University.

Morristown artist Kenneth MacBain with 'Wedding Ring,' at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown artist Kenneth MacBain with ‘Wedding Ring,’ at ‘Simply Steampunk’ at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“You’ll see some which are powered and motorized, others have lights, and my piece deals more with physical interaction. So, anything that moves falls into the category of kinetic art.”

MacBain’s Wedding Ring, the smallest piece in the show, warrants a closer look. The diamond (really a zircon) sits within a circular mousetrap-like device, and yes, it’s wearable.

“If anyone tries to grab it, they get their finger caught,” said MacBain. One wonders what Mrs. MacBain thinks about her husband’s wry take on matrimony.

Trustees and museum members appeared dazzled at the reception.

'Deliriums : Cluster B' by Matthew Steinke, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
‘Deliriums : Cluster B’ by Matthew Steinke, at ‘Simply Steampunk’ at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“This is my first experience with Steampunk,” said Vicki Bernstein, who is retired. “I absolutely love it, but I have to come back because I need more space. It’s very busy! People should come to see it because it’s creative and exciting.”

Her friend, Marie Pfeifer, said she was more familiar with Steampunk, having seen something like it once at Historic Speedwell in Morristown.

“Kinetic art has fallen through the cracks, it’s a niche that is often overlooked,” said Museum Director Cleveland Johnson.

“What we are saying is that we want the Morris Museum to be an institution where that kind of art can find a home.”

Education Director Kathy Francis with 'The Going' by Walter Rossi, at 'Simply Steampunk' at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Education Director Kathy Francis with ‘The Going’ by Walter Rossi, at ‘Simply Steampunk’ at the Morris Museum, March 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Exhibit related events include a lecture and tour by curator Michele Marinelli on Wednesday, March 20, at 2 pm; a special screening of Martin Scorcese’s Hugo, followed by a curator tour on April 7; a “Build an Automaton Children’s Workshop” on June 16; and a final tour, with artist David Bowman, on Aug. 8. A Steampunk fashion show also may be in the works.

And the series will continue next year with Tiny Intricacies –every piece will be one foot or smaller–and conclude in 2021 with Timeless Movements, which will explore relative time, abstract time, and real time.

The Morris Museum is at at 6 Normandy Heights Road in Morris Township. Admission: $10 for adults and $7 for children, students and senior citizens; free for Museum members. Call 973-971-3700.

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