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Club members turn junk into art

Greta Hammelman sits on a steamer trunk she brought to the library to hold materials for hte steampunk club. She wears a steampunk pendant she created, and also displays a felted flamingo and a collage she created during club meetings.
arts and entertainment New Richmond,Wisconsin 54017 http://www.newrichmond-news.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/20/0613/gretahammelman.jpg?itok=7_9211Sp
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Club members turn junk into art
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The movement started when Jules Verne took readers around the world in 80 days, on a journey to the center of the earth and 10,000 leagues under the sea. But for Greta Hammelman, it started with some junk.

"We are recycling junk into art," Hammelman said.

Hammelman is an artist who leads a Steampunk Club at the Hammond Public Library. Hammelman said she doesn't see herself as purely a steampunk artist, but steampunk is one type of art she enjoys creating.

"I do a lot of different mediums and I like to play around with imagery and characters," said Hammelman. She said she does felting, jewelry, drawing, painting and collage artwork.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines steampunk as "a genre of science fiction that typically features team-powered machinery rather than advanced technology." Hammelman said steampunk is "a neo-Victorian art genre" and "steam-powered imagination fusion."

Steampunk art typically features Victorian themes mixed with steam and clockwork-based devices. One drawing created in the class featured a cat wearing goggles and a top hat, both regular features of steampunk fashion and artwork.

"It is a genre, it is a movement," Hammelman said. "It's assuming all these characters and styles of the pre-industrial, but it's also based in the sci-fi."

She said the creativity of the steampunk is part of what has drawn an international group of people to steampunk and made it a movement.

"There is that underlying desire to participate in something totally sci-fi and whimsical and creative," Hammelman said.

Hammelman was referring to the beginnings of science fiction (sci-fi) more than 100 years ago in books such as Jules Verne's "1,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth".

Hammelman said other literature like "City of Ember," "A Series of Unfortunate Events," and the "Harry Potter" series have added to the steampunk genre.

Her own journey to steampunk, Hammelman said, began last winter, when she was interviewed about an art showing at the Hammond library, which happened to feature a piece she hadn't realized was steampunk.

"It was just labeled steampunk, and that's the serendipity of it," Hammelman said.

That inspired Hammelman and Michelle Johnson, Hammond Public Library director, to start the Steampunk Club.

The Steampunk Club often works more like a class, Hammelman said, especially as most of the attendees are about 12 years old. The club is open to anyone 12 and up, Hammelman said, because she wants students to be able to grasp some of the deeper meanings and symbolism behind some steampunk artwork.

A typical meeting starts off with "jargon journals" set out for attendees to write in. When everyone has arrived the club has tea, and then starts in on their monthly project.

Jargon journals, Hammelman said, are a way for students to exercise their brains. Hammelman will give the group a prompt, and they will proceed to write down whatever comes into their heads.

"It's not precious," Hammelman said. "It's automatic writing. Kind of challenging just like doing a crossword puzzle."

Hammelman said the class is mainly about creating steampunk art and being creative.

"This class is about participating in the art process and that immerses you in it and gets your imagination flowing."

While most of those participants are about 12 years old, Hammelman said there are a few adults who attend, and the one person who has attended every meeting is an 84-year-old woman. Hammelman said this is good for the younger club members.

"I think that young people need to be in an environment where they can talk to older people in a social (setting)," Hammelman said.

Hammelman and the Steampunk Club work with a lot of items found in thrift stores and antique stores.

"Part of the hunt and search for found objects and the setting you found it in...is where you get the ideas and the inspiration and look at it and you find interest," said Hammelman. "It ruminates, it grows. And you get ideas from that."

Hammelman has had the group work with old post cards, old keys, old rusty parts from contraptions that no longer work and other such things she finds. Hammelman said she is always looking for more objects.

"We want your useless junk that's sitting around that you haven't done anything with," Hammelman said.

Hammelman said that while one person may see these items as "useless junk," to her every "found object" is an opportunity to create art.

"Whether it's an old box or a clock face or sprockets, you have the imagery that you work into other objects and it adds meaning," Hammelman said. "It adds strength to the overall piece."

The Steampunk Club meets next on Thursday, July 19, at 6 p.m. at the Hammond Public Library.

Gretta Stark
Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.
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