Steampunk artist Russ Ray can’t sit still. When he’s not working in his landscape design and construction job, taking care of his family, or joyriding on his motorcycle, you can find him in his shop creating brilliant works of art.
“Steampunk industrial ideas have always been in my head, but now it’s really happening,” said Ray. “Maybe it’ll turn into my full-time job? My very first one was a table that has raw metal with heavy beams and it was turning into this steampunk. I didn’t design anything on paper, it was just in my head.”
That was just last winter. To date, Ray has completed 10 tables and nine lamps.
“Steampunk just happened,” he said. “I saw a few things on the Internet that amazed me. I love to work with metal, which is why I work with so much with it. For the antique tables I was using the old barn wood. I just sand it and apply a light layer of stain and oil.”
He finds the gears, scales, and old things at swap meets, antique shows, and all over the Internet. They bring materials from all over Portland to these venues, and to Ray, they’re treasures.
“The parts are not cheap,” he said. “The old wood isn’t cheap. A lot of these things are hard to find. Nothing can be built exactly the same. They’re one of a kind. It’s really hard to find exactly the same parts.”
So what is steampunk?
Officially, it’s a style of design and fashion that combines historical elements with anachronistic technological features inspired by science fiction.
Wikipedia says “It is a mixture of the Victorian era’s romantic view of science in literature and elements from the Industrial Revolution in Europe during the 1800s.”
“It’s just what I do,” said Ray. “Steampunk.”
Ray, 42, a husband and father of 5, also refers to his work as industrial art.
“I got started last winter designing the work,” he said. “I have more time during winter and just keep building. Landscape work is seasonal.”
“This guy cannot sit still,” said his wife, Elena Bogomaz.
It’s true, he says.
“I cannot just sit still and watch TV. When we got snowed in he went into full panic mode. It pushed me to do something in the garage.”
Ray was born in the Ukraine, came to the United States in 1997, and has lived in Camas for past 17 years.
“We’re so glad he’s here,” said Marquita Call, curator of the Camas Gallery. “He’s our featured artist on August 2 during the Downtown Camas First Friday. We can’t wait!”
Since meeting with Ray, Call has added an entire steampunk section in the gallery, which is where you can view much of his work.
He says each piece gets better, and that he now builds two types of tables: Antique and industrial rustic. He started with industrial rustic and then moved into antiques.
“This is how it always works: I find a piece and then I work around it,” he said. “I just envision it in my head. I will start to build and then put it on paper but the final product will change a lot. The cool thing with steampunk is I build pieces with themes like Marines or Air Force. I pretty much stay with antiques now. I’m fine to build any of these tables for people who want them.”
Reception desks can be built for a particular location, and he also sees an increased demand for modern styles.
“The electrical work is something I learned from my construction experience,” he said. “For residential and commercial they’re different. Residential lamps are 2-wire.”
How long does it take to build a lamp?
“A simple one will take two days to build,” he said. “I spend 80 percent of my time scavenging for pieces. I call myself an American Picker. Mostly I look for gauges to put in all lamps. Gauges, water meters, different valves. Most of the pipes are old ones mixed with new ones. Some of the pipes are really old. The wood comes from old barns or schools that are 100 years or older. For industrial rustic most of the wood is newer. The antique tables are old wood. Older wood has thicker cuts.”
He invites you to attend his reception at Camas Gallery on Friday, August 2 from 5-8 pm. You can also find his work at www.OldBarnCustom.com
Camas Gallery is located at 408 NE 4th Avenue in Downtown Camas, Washington.