Steampunk Furniture now open in Rainier
It all comes together in the ethos of steampunk, a retro futuristic subgenre of science fiction dealing with 19th-century technology and aesthetic designs inspired by industrial steam-powered machinery.
For visual cues, think of movies such as "Mortal Engines," "Wild Wild West," "Treasure Planet," Robert Downey Jr.'s "Sherlock Holmes" films and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
Despite its Victorian-era aesthetic, you can see plenty of examples — including furniture, artwork, sculpture and much more — in today's world at Rainier's new Steampunk Furniture, which opened Aug. 8 at 215 East C Street. Steampunk Furniture is open by appointment weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
According to owner/artist Joe Mauck and contributing artist Carl Sumsion — both are teachers at St. Helens High School — the store marks a merger of their interests, abilities and long fascination with steampunk.
"It started out with the Victorian era, and then if electricity and gas come along but everything's still run by steam, how would the world work?" Mauck asked. "That's the gist of it."
"(And) it's spread off from there," Sumsion said. "There is a wild west kind of genre that's come off (and) the worker class is really emphasized in it. In fact … the upper classes are looked down upon in steampunk. The working class is always the priority."
Mauck — he teaches woodshop, drafting, and renovation and remodeling at SHHS — helped renovate the Victorian-era building that houses Steampunk Furniture and thus far has contributed several pieces of furniture. Sumsion — he teaches art, ceramics and painting at St. Helens — has shared art pieces and other mechanical creations. Pat Brame, a retired ceramics teacher from St. Helens High School, has also contributed pieces to the store.
If You Go
• What: Steampunk Furniture
• Where: 215 East C Street, Rainier
• When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and weekdays by appointment
• Website: steampunkfurniture.org/
"We've actually had quite a bit of interest from people," Mauck said. "There's two types of people that come by — there's the people that are just so overjoyed that somebody finally is doing steampunk, and then there's the other people that come in that say, 'Well, what is steampunk?'"
Mauck bought the 1868 building, which overlooks the Columbia River from its perch on Second Street, five years ago and has been remodeling it slowly since. Then, based on a chance conversation he had at school with Sumsion, the idea for Steampunk Furniture was born.
"I do artwork and (Mauck) saw me making a few 'steampunky' kind of things at school and asked me if I could do some steampunk work if he had a place to display it," Sumsion said.
"Yeah, he was doing a steampunk ceramic piece and so … we just decided, 'Hey. Let's give it a shot,'" Mauck said.
From there, over time, Steampunk Furniture came together. Mauck uncovered and refinished the building's hardwood floors, then painted, refurbished and set the stage for the building's handful of ground-floor display rooms, each highlighted by natural light filtering in through the building's wavy glass windows.
While much of Mauck's time has been dedicated to the building itself, he has also contributed several pieces to Steampunk Furniture, including a trio of stools (with heavy seats made of aged wood and intricate, industrial metal legs), a chair and a table.
"I enjoy that furniture style of things," Mauck said. "I enjoy working with metal and with wood — the combination of them — so that's where my interest started. I didn't even know there was steampunk. I was just doing stuff that felt fun, and then I found out there was a genre. I fit into it without knowing I did."
Sumsion, meanwhile, has contributed a number of paintings (including a trio focused on peace) and several sculptures/creations, including a mechanical swing arm raven lamp.
"Like Joe said, I was interested before I knew what it was, but it's the old mechanical things, vintage wood and just how intricate the little parts that go together are and all the gears and things and making it," Sumsion said. "It seems like we're so electronic these days that the old mechanical (era) just has a whole lot more interest for me."
While opening a new business during the COVID-19 pandemic might seem like a risky proposition, Mauck said it just made sense.
"I was remodeling this … and my plan was to rent it out," he said. "But when (the pandemic) happened … I figured finding a business to rent a space like this would be difficult. Half the businesses here, you know, are already closed."
Moving forward, Mauck and Sumsion hope to fill more of Steampunk Furniture's rooms with submissions from other artists, open for additional days, add their own maker space and, perhaps, inspire a steampunk revolution that would bring recognition to Rainier.
"We have more rooms in the back and so our hope is we'll get more people to be inspired and bring their own stuff to sell at some point, because I looked online and … as far as I know, we're the only steampunk store out there," Mauck said. "We are looking for more artists. If there are people that have an interest in making stuff, we would love to have them submit some work and see if they would fit in."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.