Artist Barbara Richardson makes steampunk inspired jewelry at her Benicia home.
Every generation has a cult fad. In the 1960s, it was the beats, a generation inspired by the travels of Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady and the Merry Pranksters. In the late 1980s, and even through today, there was goth, a subculture offshoot of post-punk often defined by 19th gothic literature and distinctly dark style. Today, people young and old are obsessed with a mix of new and old, Victorian-era style blended with a postapocalyptic, futuristic world that relies on steam power. The most recent fad is, you guessed it, steampunk.
Artist and jewelry maker Barbara Richardson, in tune with the latest trends, picked up on this growing subculture before most other artists in the area. Richardson started using glass as a medium but slowly evolved with the times and fads. She and her business partner, as well as domestic partner, Jerry Hild, both consider what they make to be art, but also sell it as functional or wearable pieces. Hild is the glass end of the business, making his own unique pieces separately from Richardson. She initially liked glass as a medium, but after attending a “torch-off” in Eugene, Ore., Richardson’s artistic world opened. She was inspired by the creativity of the artists and vendors she met through farmers markets and festivals. “I saw this niche that I’ve never seen before,” she said. Richardson started experimenting with different kinds of jewelry in her free time. But when she lost her job, her plans changed. Initially, she said she was lost and didn’t know what to do with herself. After a year or so, she decided to go forward and try selling her pieces. She found her niche creating repurposed art. What she repurposes has changed over the years, as styles and fads evolved. For a while, it was feather jewelry and accessories. And then, from the underground, came steampunk. Richardson’s steampunk pieces are usually bronze and antique in appearance. She frequently takes apart the gears of watches and grandfather clocks and pieces them together. One of her favorites is a large necklace with a hanging, bouncing spring from a grandfather clock. The motion and the functionality of these pieces make them more than just jewelry, she said. “I like to think of it as wearable art rather than jewelry,” she said. As much as Richardson enjoys steampunk, she said she still sees her art changing with the fads. “I’m ready to evolve,” she said.