The Steampunk of Everything with Bruce Rosenbaum
by Daniel Hales
Bruce Rosenbaum is a Steampunk artist, entrepreneur, educator, and the list goes on... If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Steampunk,” an excellent place to start is the Netflix series Amazing Interiors, (the episode entitled: House of Dictators, Bank House, Steampunk Wonderland) which features Bruce and the church in Palmer, Massachusetts that he and his wife Melanie bought with the goal of converting it into “the Steampunk capital of America.”
Built in 1876 (a “Centennial” church) Bruce and Melanie’s home, workshop, and display space, started out as St. Mary’s, a Catholic Church, then it became an Episcopalian church, then a Universalist church. And now, since Bruce is Jewish, another name for it could be a Steampunk Synagogue, with Bruce as its Steampunk rabbi.
In the episode Bruce defines the Steampunk aesthetic as “a sort of re-imagination, as if during the Victorian period, or the industrial age, they had our modern technology. It’s this kind of retro-futuristic look.”
The art Bruce has filled this shrine to Steampunk with also provides numerous incredible illustrative examples, like Helioman: the 9’ tall 15’ wide DaVinci-inspired kinetic sculpture that hangs (and with propeller blades that spin) from the ceiling of the sanctuary in Bruce’s Steampunk synagogue.
Or there are his incredible “Humachines:” elaborate sculptures that depict iconic Steampunk authors and inventors as the machines they either wrote about or created. One example is “Sub-Human,” his homage to Jules Verne, the visionary author of 20,00 Leagues Under The Sea who is one of the founding fathers of Steampunk.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Steampunk,” an excellent place to start is the Netflix series Amazing Interiors, (the episode entitled: House of Dictators, Bank House, Steampunk Wonderland) which features Bruce...
He revisits Verne in a smaller piece, for sale on his website, called “Pneumo’s Flying Submarine:” an homage to Nemo, Captain of the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues. The name of the piece puns on the old pneumatic tubes used to send messages in the late 19th and early 20th century, some of which Bruce has incorporated into the sculpture.
Most of the lovingly constructed objects displayed in his home are for sale or are prototypes for the kinds of pieces he can build for you.
Like the Steampunk aesthetic, Bruce thrives on paradox. His artwork is a blend of gilded era opulence, modern functionality, and futuristic aspiration. Similarly, Bruce himself is simultaneously an unapologetic dreamer—an artist building fanciful castles in the clouds out of very heavy materials—and also a very pragmatic and successful businessman with a BA in Business from UMass and an MBA from Duke. He ran a direct marketing mail business for years.
Now he devotes his energy to ModVic, his business designing unique Steampunk-inspired art. ModVic has clients around the world, from collectors to big businesses. His work can be found in private homes, hotel lobbies, bridges, and museums alike.
Bruce strategically uses Google Alerts to find potential clients, and then uses the platform HubSpot to solicit kindred souls and potential clients. In particular, Bruce is on the lookout for businesses that are doing adaptive reuse or redevelopment projects, such as taking an old mill and turning it into something else.
Once Google Alerts helps him locate these prospective parties, he uses HubSpot to send a sequence of six automated emails that go out over a six-month period. In each email he tells a little more about himself and how ModVic could add value to their project. HubSpot will also tell you when and how often people open one of your emails.
Bruce calls this “magic” because of how effective it’s been at getting responses, often by the first or second email. Or some people open the same email as many as twenty times. That gives you a pretty good indication that they’re interested! At any given time Bruce is in touch with hundreds of different people. Once they go from curious contacts to enthusiastic clients, he works with them to create specific artwork that tells their past, present, and future using objects that are often already there, on site.
Bruce strategically uses Google Alerts to find potential clients, and then uses the platform HubSpot to solicit kindred souls and potential clients.
In addition to a constant search for the raw materials needed to build his art, Bruce is always on the lookout for people to collaborate with. Some of his projects require welders, woodworkers, electricians, concept illustrators, and other artisans. In particular, Bruce is excited to collaborate with other “DaVinci brains:” people who have skills to offer in a specific technical area, but who can also envision the whole and contribute to realizing the artistic vision of a piece.
Another way of describing the kind of collaborators Bruce seeks out are “Janusian” thinkers (after the Roman God, Janus, with two faces): those capable of opposite thinking or divergent thinking. Janusian thinking is an idea developed in the seventies by researcher Albert Rothenberg, who was looking at how great thinkers make their breakthroughs, and found they were not linear thinkers, moving in a straight line from point A to B when solving problems. Janusian thinkers often put the problem in the center and purposely come up with two opposite solutions at the same time, then figure out a way to fuse those two approaches together to arrive at the best solution.
Bruce offers the hammer as a perfect illustration of Janusian thinking. For centuries, the hammer had one purpose only: pounding nails. Eventually someone had the brilliant idea to also give the same object its opposite function, and the claw was added to the back of the hammer. This is also what Steampunk art thrives on: the blending of old and new, past, present, and future, form and function, art and science, man and machine, the biological and the mechanical: opposites coming together to create something new and exciting.
Learn More About Steampunk
If you’re interested in learning more about Steampunk, kinetic art, Artificial Intelligence, Janusian thinking, or just how to make a living as an artist in the 21st Century, Bruce also offers workshops.
Educators take note: you’ll be hard pressed to come up with a field trip that will inspire students (of any age) with more wonder and creativity than a visit to Bruce’s Steampunk Church in Palmer.
You don’t need to be any of religion or denomination to appreciate what Bruce is building in the sanctuary. Nor do you need a retrofitted zeppelin to get there. Although if you happen to have one, Bruce would love to check it out.
Check out his Steampunk Wonderland on Netflix--or contact Bruce to set up a trip down the rabbit hole. The world won’t look the same once you emerge.
You can also visit his website: modvic.com.
All photos courtesy of ModVic LLC
except the photo of Bruce with the Humamachine which was by M.G. Norris.