October 26, 2011

A Steampunk Walk Down Under the Manhattan Bridge

For a second steampunk excursion into New York - Union Square was the first - Dumbo in Brooklyn provided a most suitable location. With its industrial built environment, heavy infrastructure, and fantastical views of the bridges and Manhattan, the area down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass hardly needs visual alteration for this sort of aesthetic.

A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
Tunnel under the Manhattan Bridge, Water Street

While its warehouses and factories now serve as repurposed spaces for apartments, retail stores, and arts groups, it's not too difficult to imagine the waterfront streets populated by velvet-wearing inventors, top-hatted mad scientists, or eccentric 19th century archivists. In short, Dumbo hardly needs steampunking. It's already there.

A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
remnants of the Jay Street Connecting Railroad
A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
In Dumbo, a view of the Manhattan Bridge
A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
Steampunk 2011 at The Dumbo Loft
 
In point of fact, I happened to visit the area this past Sunday where several merchants had gathered in the Dumbo Loft for a Steampunk fashion market and show.

While I didn't stick around for the show, I visited with several of the merchants. I loved looking at Ami Nyitray's pendants made from 19th century microscope slides and covered with decorative papers. Diane Pinder was in attendance with her delicious Tuscan-inspired chocolates from Donna & Company, and I tried a balsamic chocolate and a pumpkin caramel. Both were delicious. I was particularly taken with Kelly M. Kotulak's series of iris pendants inspired by the eyes of animals. Her painstaking craftsmanship gives these eyes an otherworldly sense, as if they were not made in a Brooklyn studio but had somehow magically appeared from another dimension or through a time machine. (links to these merchants may be found below.)

A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
Kelly M. Kotulak's series of iris pendants (and thanks to Kelly for helping with the image)
 
If steampunk valorizes a world run on steam, then Fulton Ferry, the waterfront area named for Robert Fulton's amazing steamboat invention, would certainly constitute hallowed ground for steampunk-like visionaries. Case in point - in the early summer of 2008, the Fulton Ferry Landing served as the location for artist Paul St. George's fantastical Telectroscope, an ambitious optical-digital device that allowed New Yorkers and Londoners to stare with curiosity at one another in real time. And on my walk this past Sunday, I came across a viewfinder on Washington Street. Peering in the device, I saw a vision of a ferris wheel with Brooklyn Bridge in the background. While the ferris wheel was not there in reality, it was nice to imagine it. So if not steam these days, Dumbo seems to be taken with optical illusions.

A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
Viewfinder on Washington Street
A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
Inside the viewfinder (but viewed with two eyes, as opposed to my one-eyed iPhone here,
the image is marvelously stereoscoped)
And if this area of the Brooklyn waterfront once ran on steam, it certainly ran on coffee. The early Industrial Revolution thrived on coffee's stimulating properties. The Dumbo Loft was once a warehouse for coffee. Lines of the tracks of the Jay Street Connecting Railroad can be seen amidst the Belgian block streets near the water, and the short railroad line shipped in coffee to the warehouses here. It's hard to imagine New York without a jolt of java. Or without the words of writer Herman Melville, represented in this neighborhood by independent publisher Melville House.

A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
Melville House. As Bartleby would say.....
 
The mighty bridges, tunnels, and old railroad lines may be enough, but the real wonder of the wondrous city of our imagination may be found at the waterfront. The vision of the metropolis is hard to believe. It's like something out of subgenre of science fiction or a futuristic fantasy.

A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
The view of Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park
A Scene from Steampunked Dumbo
The city of the future

For more information:

Ami Nyitray Designs 

Donna & Company 

K. M. Kotulak 

The Dumbo Loft 

Jay Street Connecting Railroad

 
View A Steampunk Walk Down Under the Manhattan Bridge in a larger map

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Sunday, October 23, 1895. Made with the Steampunk PhotoTada! app for the iPhone 4. Pardon me, I meant to type 2011 in the date. Additional images may be viewed in this amazing slideshow device upon the Flickr.

The series concludes with a trip to Roosevelt Island.

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