The Old West has a new look in pop culture, which is why the director of Barton Community College’s Shafer Gallery gave college trustees a crash course Thursday in steampunk.
Steampunk is a sub-culture of science fiction in the tradition of author Jules Verne; stories are set in an era such as the late 19th Century where steam power is still widely used, but featuring futuristic technology such as H.G. Wells’ time machine. Modern examples of steampunk include the graphic novel series "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," and the 2003 movie based on the series.
The genre is far removed from the works of L.E. "Gus" Shafer, who was born on a farm south of Hoisington in 1907 and achieved commercial success creating bronze sculptures of Old West scenes. But gallery director David Barnes hopes to expand interest with a new slogan: "Shafer Gallery - Where the Old West meets the future."
Barnes took over as the gallery director a little less than a year ago. At Thursday’s Board of Trustees study session he talked about how the steampunk subculture may create new interest in the gallery, while remaining true to its stated purpose: "To provide cultural and educational experiences for area students and their communities. The Shafer Gallery will present, promote and preserve the artistic traditions of the Great Plains with a special focus on the work of L.E. "Gus" Shafer."
"We would like to create a kind of new image," Barnes told the trustees. He also spoke of a desire to "revitalize the image." However, while he wants to make the gallery a destination that appeals to a younger audience, Barnes said the old traditions are still respected. In fact, the gallery has obtained two of Shafer’s Western-themed bronzes in the past year. The pieces titled "Payday" and "Twilight," are in storage and undergoing some cleaning, but will be displayed in the future. With those pieces, acquired by the Barton Community College Foundation, the college now has 28 Shafer bronzes in its permanent collection.
The new look can be seen in gallery’s promotional artwork, where the name Shafer Gallery and its familiar oxen-yoke logo appear on the face of an old-style pocket watch — but the watch is surrounded by a display of bright colors that suggest something futuristic. It will also be seen in the gallery’s upcoming exhibition 2011 Faculty and Staff Exhibition, which opens Aug. 21. That exhibit will feature photography by Les Patrick, administrative assistant and the college’s Fort Riley Programs Office.
Barnes has also written to principals are area schools and offered to make the gallery available in new ways for educational purposes. Educators can schedule class tours that include related talks, lessons and activities. And the juried exhibition that opens Oct. 2, "Endangered Journey: Monarch Migrations," will provide information about the monarch butterfly and threats to its migration patterns in North America.
Popular Shafer exhibits from the past will return this fall, including one from the National Quilt Museum in November, and the Festival of Christmas Trees and Holiday Open House in November and December.
The opening reception for each exhibit includes live music provided through the Robert Keenan Memorial Music Series. For the next exhibit’s opening reception on Aug. 1, music instructor Karole Erikson will play the college’s synthesizer, which was also obtained by a grant in the past year.