curious oddities

Curious Clocks: the extraordinary work of Eric Freitas
July 29, 2008, 5:31 pm
Filed under: Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I always find myself drawn to those who push beyond the surface, and really dive into the craft that carries their art. Anyone who has seen work by the extremely talented clock builder Eric Freitas will understand why I was compelled to get in touch with him. Eric builds timepieces in his Michigan workshop that are the perfect marriage of delicious aesthetic and hand-built quality.

“In some part I’m making clocks this way to celebrate the mechanics of clocks by making the parts themselves pieces of art.”

Each component is painstakingly designed, cut, contoured and aged by hand. The completed clocks almost always look exactly like the preliminary sketches, which are beautiful on their own.

Eric’s mechanical clocks are especially intriguing as their gears and working parts are exposed. In this world of digital devices, who’s inner workings are a mystery to most, it is a pleasure to see the mechanism- to see how the pieces all work together. They resemble something old and solid, part of our human history, but have been manipulated to appear from a different place or time-not quite our own. Eric was kind enough to answer some questions for me.

Hi Eric, thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate it.

I appreciate the exposure. Thank you!

I share your interest in gears, pulleys and old mechanical systems- what inspired you to focus specifically on clocks?

I have to laugh a little when I get this question, because I’m not sure I always knew. It started as a whim; a simple idea of contradicting the structure often found in timepieces, with forms that were so strange and random that the time was almost unreadable. I created these rusty, gnarled clock faces and used plastic motors to control the hands. Then, half-jokingly, my friend said “you know, what you should do is make the gears and everything, and make them look all gnarled to match the faces”. It was practically a dare. One of those inaccessible ideas that sounds spectacular, but no one ever really follows through with. I think the difficulty of this undertaking was alluring to me. I was just ready for something bigger than the painting I’d done previously, and this idea seemed like it would be worth the hard work. There’s something very inviting, and gravitating about seeing mechanical things at work. I wanted to make these strange, and almost inhuman-looking clocks to really invoke curiosity and astonishment in people.

Clock/watch building has traditionally been taught mostly through apprenticeship, how have you found self-teaching- has it been a big challenge, or are there lots of resources available?

Learning how to machine all of those parts was without question one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Prior to this, I’d only used art supplies, so every little step was foreign to me. Having a teacher certainly would have made the process faster, but looking back I’m very glad I did it myself. There are plenty of books available on clockmaking, and I liked the personal nature of working through all of the problems myself. Just me in my garage, with some machines I didn’t know how to use, and some books I didn’t quite understand yet. I think learning from a traditional clockmaker would have put me in the wrong mindset. I needed to be able to say “why not?”, and not have an answer.

You build both quartz clocks and a mechanical clocks, what is the difference between them? Do you have a preference?

The mechanical clocks are made completely by hand. They’re powered by a weight, and regulated by a pendulum swinging back and forth. The quartz clocks have faces that involve the same kind of style and metalwork, but the hands are turned by a commercial motor. I definitely prefer the mechanical clocks, but I really do love some of the things happening with the quartz ones as well. They’re a great way for me to try different visual things in a very immediate and unrestricted way. Also, there are some designs that are simply better suited for a motorized piece. The integrity of the sketch is what’s most important, so if a design looks cluttered with gears, I won’t use them.

You are being featured in the world’s first steampunk group show, can you tell me a little bit about it- what can we look forward to seeing as your contribution?

On August 16th, at the Hamptons Antique Galleries, an eight day show will begin that’s boldly titled “STEAMPUNK-THE NEW GENRE OF ART+DESIGN”. There have been shows that implied the idea, or sort of danced around the label in the past. I think It’s great that Art Donovan, the curator of the show, is just putting the word out there in big bold letters. He knows this is a hot movement right now, and that a lot of people are curious about it. Part of steampunk is taking the old technology we love so much, and pushing it to new levels that were never achieved because something new replaced it. It’s easy to latch on to this romanticized version of the past, because in today’s world, we’re surrounded by so much plastic and mass production; the soul has been ripped out of the things that we use on a daily basis. This is the aspect of steampunk that I identify with. I’m creating functional objects that are very personal, and have a lot of life in them. For this show, I’ll be including two of my mechanical clocks, No.2 and 3, and my fourth quartz piece. I’ve also got a new one in store for everyone. A quartz clock that incorporates working gears on the face! I’m very excited about this, because it offers a taste of the mechanical clocks, without winding or maintenance.

If you are going to be in New York in August, be sure to head down to the STEAMPUNK-THE NEW GENRE OF ART+DESIGN exhibit.  Now there is a fine excuse for a road trip!

You can view more of Eric Freitas’ work, including sketches and detail shots, on his Flickr pages. His personal website also contains more information about the designing/building process, and regular updates on his projects- the site is beautifully designed and well worth a visit!

Bustles, and Gaiters, and Ruffs! Oh, My!
June 29, 2008, 1:46 pm
Filed under: Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Now, I consider myself to be fairly sensible and practical in my daily wardrobe choices. That said,  I must admit that sometimes I truly enjoy getting very uncomfortable for fashion. I don’t mean a push-up bra and heels to go out for a nice dinner. I mean extremely, frivolously uncomfortable: laced, lifted, cinched, compressed, extruded and exaggerated.

Rudman’s sumptuous felted Victorian collar

While the corset has been included in every decade’s fashion line-up, the glorious bustle has rarely been Miss Bunny Bustle Skirtseen (except perhaps on John Galliano’s runway). To my delight, I am not alone in my frivolity. From Toronto designer Miss Jenn A. Lopez’s bustle bags to Miss Bunny‘s sexy little kilt-style bustle skirt (pictured on the right), there are pieces to satisfy any historically inspired appetite. And for the real thing visit ParaNoire (I am in lust with her delicious black Victorian gown) or LestatCouture for custom designs.

Seductive, sweet or sultry, not since the Elizabethan Era has neck-gear been so fabulous: the ruff is back, in rich velvets, silks and taffeta, leather, feathers and felted wool. Other noteworthy designs include Emmapardos’ collars, Larime loom’s scarflets and Tickled Pink Knits.

“Someday my prince will come” neck ruff by Dainty Things

daintythings black ruff

misfitchic medieval ruff

White historical ruff by Misfit Chic on left

If you have not yet discovered spats or gaiters, get excited. Shortened from spatterdashes c1802, spats are the low version of gaiters (cloth leg coverings that fit over boots or shoes and have a strap around the instep.) Originally designed to protect the boots and leg from mud, snow, branches and general wear, they have been reinvented as the best thing ever for boot lovers. For the mad scientist: a flashy white pair with black buttons, a strappy beige pair for the gentleman explorer, and perhaps a red and black brocade pair by Mariapozo for the refined Lady. You can transform almost any boring old pair of heels, shoes or boots into a fabulous new pair of expressive footwear. For a custom pair, contact Straight Razor Slasher -be sure to look through the sold item section of her shop for some fabulous inspiration!

straight razor slasher white spats

straight razor slasher short spats

Beige and white gaiters by Straight Razor Slasher

And For further inspiration, check out this impressive collection of designs by German designer Maide, a delightful pair of knit gaiters by Chronographia, and cut leather gaiters by Le Frivolites.

Carters Royal Fair: A Steam-Powered Spectacle
April 17, 2008, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Here I make a little confession, I have a thing for carnivals.

A big thing.

I love it all, the corn dogs and candy floss, the musk of axle grease and sweat, the mystery, the spectacle and of course the glorious attractions.

The Carter Steam Fair is one of the few remaining old-style, steam-powered, traveling carnivals. With every attention to detail, the Fair is pulled by a spectacular fleet of vintage transport trucks, including a really cool 1932 Ford AA with a back-end that has been converted into candy floss stand.

Steam organ: photo by Tarnie cc

Established in 1976 by John Carter, who had a passion for collecting and restoring old and interesting items, the Steam Fair is still going strong, traveling through London and into the surrounding areas 7 months out of the year.

All of the rides, some date back to the late 1800’s and early 1920’s, are powered by good old fashioned steam- the generators are awesome. As well as the beautiful rides and “games of chance,” Carter’s traveling arcade has the largest collection of vintage penny slot machines open to the public.

The Steam Yachts and Chair-O-Planes: photos by Steve Bowbrick cc

Should you find yourself in Berkshire during the warmer months, be sure to plan a visit to Carters Famous Royal Berkshire Steam Fair. If you can’t make it, you can live vicariously through others and see a huge set of great photos here.

For further enjoyment, if you like the darker side of carnival life and haven’t seen the two-season-long HBO series Carnivale– I highly recommend it.

2K Games Releases New Bioshock Map
March 4, 2008, 9:57 am
Filed under: Steampunk | Tags: , , , ,
Just kidding, it’s actually the lobby of the Fairview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Hydro-Teslatron day shot
Christened the Hydro-Teslatron (named after inventor Nikola Tesla) this awesome 45-foot, Jules Verne-esque fountain was designed and installed by Lester Creative of California and took over 18 months to build.

As the signature water feature at Niagara Fallsview Casino, it houses more than 760,000 integrated LEDs and two million feet of fiber-optics.

After dark, the Hydro-Teslatron surges to life putting on an eight-minute water and light show simulating an “electrical disaster of epic proportions.”

Sparks, lasers, ominous glowing lights and 7,000 gallons of frothing churning water… Now that’s my kind of entertainment!

Hydro-Teslatron detail

A true tribute to the dawn of hydroelectric power, and it looks damn cool.

There are more pictures and a 360° walkthrough on Fairview Casino’s site. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any videos around of the fountain in full action but here are a few in regular mode: one and two and three. Check out the Bioshock website at 2K Games.