Lodi fans of steampunk — the retrofuturistic, Victorian-inspired science fantasy genre — are in for a treat this month. The Lodi Community Art Center is presenting Steampunk!, a joint exhibition by artists Elsa Bates, Nina Boyd and Rita Hill, through Sept. 26.
The gallery show brings together sculptures and mixed media pieces by Bates, Boyd’s bright and colorful pencil, pen and oil pastel creations, and Hill’s photographs and expertly designed props.
The idea grew out of a conversation between Hill and LCAC president JC Strote. As the membership of the Lodi Community Art Center grows, the gallery has looked to add themed shows spotlighting multiple artists to its rotation of exhibits.
Hill, who discovered the steampunk genre several years ago and dived right in, thought it would make a good theme.
“Next thing you know, it was three of us who jumped in,” she said.
Hill and Boyd connected quickly, and Strote suggested Bates — who specializes in turning other people’s metal junk into artistically welded sculptures — would make a great addition.
“The three of us have such good energy,” Boyd said.
Bates was thrilled to be involved in the show, as an admirer of both of her fellow artists’ work.
“I loved it. They were wonderful,” she said.
In fact, she was a little intimidated at first, she admitted.
The three artists worked together to put together a varied show — occasionally even inspiring one another’s work. Boyd created a series of drawings featuring a red-haired pilot and her fairy co-pilot after seeing a sculpture Hill had crated.
“I ended up including one of her airships in one of my drawings,” she said.
The show has been nearly a year in the making, Strote said.
Hill has been a photographer for more than 30 years, with roots in photojournalism. She worked for the newspaper in Madera for a time before embarking on a law enforcement career. But once she got married, she decided to return to photography.
She opened a studio on East Oak Street in Lodi just a couple of years ago. In addition to her work at the studio, she has done photo series on “Women and Wine” and “Women in Music,” showcasing local women, as a way to get familiar with the city and surrounding area.
Hill discovered steampunk about five or six years ago and got hooked. Even before working on the Steampunk! exhibit for LCAC, Hill had been inspired by the genre.
For example, when shooting her “Women and Wine” photo series, Hill had Woodbridge author Terri Wells Brown don a steampunk costume for her portrait. Brown’s husband, Don, and his motorcycle project have also served as models for Hill’s steampunk-themed work.
What’s so alluring about the genre?
“It’s a fun hobby,” Hill said. “It gets your mind into the make-believe world of the Victorian era, airships and undersea living.”
For the LCAC exhibit, Hill is not just sharing her photos but several props and mixed media pieces she has crafted over the years. Her specialty is finding items at secondhand stores, yard sales and even dollar stores and upgrading them into steampunk masterpieces.
“You’d be surprised what you can come up with,” she said.
Among the pieces she created just for the LCAC show is a guitar and — as she realized the temptation to strum the strings might be too strong for some — a custom-made shadowbox to display it in.
“I built the shadowbox out of repurposed pallet wood,” she said.
Boyd was the next artist to join the project, finding the steampunk theme a rich source of inspiration.
“I love to develop my own ideas and create my own characters, and sort of play off a story,” she said.
Inspired by one of Hill’s model airships, Boyd began thinking about what kind of person might fly such an aircraft. Soon, she found herself drawing her red-headed pilot in a series of different pieces.
“It was a really cool genre to sort of explore,” she said. “How would life have been different if electricity hadn’t been developed?”
Boyd studied art at California State University, Sacramento. While in school, she found herself painting a lot of murals in private homes, and enjoyed it very much, she said.
A Lodi native, she returned to the city with her husband after she completed her degree.
“Moving here has been so cool,” Boyd said.
She’s especially enjoyed being part of the Lodi Community Art Center.
While she has a “day job,” Boyd spends a lot of her free time creating art, including taking on commissions. She recently completed some commissioned fan art of Bay Area author Juliette Wade’s science fiction novel “Mazes of Power.” The art was commissioned as part of a social media advertising campaign for the novel.
Her favorite part of the Steampunk! show — though it was hard to choose just one — was the chance to work with other creative people, Boyd said.
“I haven’t collaborated with other artists in this way in a long time,” she said.
Bates moved to Lodi from Massachusetts 15 years ago. Her artistic roots stretch back to doing craft shows when her children were young. Soon, she expanded into oil painting for the rural hospital in Holden, Mass. The hospital’s women’s auxiliary had a rotating art display that community members were welcome to contribute to. Bates sold several pieces through that show, she said.
But it was when she moved to Lodi that she began getting serious about her art, while taking watercolor classes with Stockton’s Claire Oak at Hutchins Street Square.
“I got to paint with her off and on throughout the years,” Bates said. “That was just a lucky break for me.”
She joined the Lodi Community Art Center and other local artists’ groups, soon connecting with metal sculptor Jerrod Mays.
When Mays, whose work includes several sculptures at the Lodi Public Library, offered to teach some of his fellow artists to weld, Bates jumped at the chance.
“He’s a wonderful mentor of mine,” she said.
Bates has become well-known in the area for her metal sculptures, especially her cranes. She has shown and sold the welded birds at the Sandhill Crane Festival, KVIE’s Art Auction, and special events at the San Joaquin County Historical Society at Micke Grove Park.
She also enjoys creating art out of paper ephemera, a medium she’s been especially enjoying during the pandemic.
“I’ve always dabbled in art, I guess. I come from a creative family,” she said.
Both of her parents were creative, Bates said. The eldest of six children, she remembered gathering together with her family to work on their individual projects together in the evenings.
“We were encouraged to be creative,” she said. “I guess I’m still sort of like that.”
All three of the artists agreed that working on the show was a welcome distraction, especially in recent months.
“It’s a good way to relieve all this horrible tension of this pandemic,” Hill said.
Bates was especially pleased to see the turnout at the First Friday Art Hop last week — the first time the event has been held in months.
“Everybody seemed to enjoy having somewhere to go,” she said.
Visitors to the gallery followed the rules, sticking to small groups and patiently waiting their turns to enter the gallery space.
“We didn’t see one person without a mask,” Bates added.
Her fellow artists were glad to visit with Lodi residents who turned out to see the show as well.
“It’s really nice to see people out and enjoying art,” Boyd said.
Steampunk! will be on display until Sept. 26 at the Lodi Community Art Center, 110 W. Pine St. in Downtown Lodi. The gallery is open on weekends by appointment, and may also be opened for drop-ins on weekends. The gallery is only admitting six people at a time, and there are cleaning procedures and hand sanitizer in place. All visitors must wear masks.
For more information, visit www.lodiartcenter.org.