Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why I Make Steampunk Gas Masks

A gas mask is a piece of equipment worn on the face whose purpose is to purify the air being breathed. While it is fundamentally functional it becomes part of the costume as it dramatically alters the appearance of the wearer. This can be perceived by the viewer as either terrifying—as one resembles a monster—or humorous—as one becomes a silly clown.

Modern gas masks are made of synthetic rubber, but historical gas masks—first made in the late nineteenth century—were constructed primarily of leather with metal fittings. In a dystopian steampunk world which might have been, there is greater unregulated industrialization and unexplained disasters, resulting in gross pollution of the air. This in turn leads to ordinary folk wearing gas masks on a regular basis.

As a steampunk artist, my creative challenge is to imagine what this equipment might have looked like. I like to combine the terrifying with the silly so as to invoke curiosity and wonder. The antiqued leatherwork looks like it came from the nineteenth century, but the form of the masks—which might resemble a rhinoceros or an elephant—are pure fantasy.