Darin Beaulieu, also known as Admiral Captain Dartanio Darkenwulf, was one of the costume competition judges at the 2023 Southern Maine Steampunk Fair. Eloise Goldsmith photo

KENNEBUNK— Gears, goggles, vests and corsets were all on display at the Southern Maine Steampunk Fair last Saturday, which brought in Mainers for a day of revelry at the Brick Store Museum.

Many know steampunk when they see it, thanks to its distinctive visual iconography — but defining it is less straightforward.

“Steampunk can figure as literary trope, DIY craft, or mainstream fashion. Moreover, besides its striking visual characteristics, we might also consider steampunk a novel and popular way of ‘doing’ history. Defining steampunk is difficult, however, eluding even committed practitioners,” wrote Perspectives on History, the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association in 2018.

An off-sited definition of steampunk comes from American studies scholar Rebecca Onion, who writes that it is “a multi-textual aesthetic which first began to form in the late 1980s [that] imagines the world as it was during the early Victorian era, when steam power still fueled machines.”

Steampunk also draws inspiration from the work of science fiction writers like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The 1954 film adaptation of Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” played on loop inside the museum for the entirety of the fair.

Lela Ferguson, a vendor at the event described steampunk as “retro futurism” but she also spoke to its hard-to-pin-down quality: “What is incredibly common within steampunk, [is that] you kind of make it your own. That’s why you’ll see the same motifs and the same kind of look — a lot of goggles, a lot of shades of brown, a lot of use of leather — and all that jazz. But for everybody it’s [a form] of individual expression.”


Lela Ferguson and Kennedy Grant of Ferrous UnderWorks. Eloise Goldsmith photo

Ferguson runs Ferrous UnderWorks, which specializes in making steampunk props with a focus on weaponry. Some of the weapons that Ferguson produces are a riff on something that exists or has existed in the human world, such as a Hutton Sabre, while others are drawn from fiction, such as her take on a light sabre.

Many in the crowd, Ferguson included, were decked out in impressive costumes — some with the aim of winning the costume competition. One of the judges of the costume contest was Darin Beaulieu, also known as Admiral Captain Dartanio Darkenwulf. “I am a time traveling, interdimensional, portal-jumping airship pirate. That is my character,” he clarified. Beaulieu said he’d be judging the contest entrants based on their overall presentation, but would consider other factors like whether the costume was homemade.

Steampunk author Jessica Lucci poses with her latest book. Eloise Goldsmith photo

Steampunk author Jessica Lucci, also in costume, attended the fair to sell and promote her books. Midway through the afternoon she performed a reading of her latest book “Salem Switch,” a novel about a group of women who time travel from the 1800s to the Salem Witch Trials.

Steampunks might have different interpretations of steampunk, but one thing unites them all. “We’re just likeminded individuals who like to come together and have a good time,” said Beaulieu.



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