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Turning Scrap into Steampunk

Sacramento artist Paul X. Stewart mines Goodwill outlets for steampunk treasure

Monday, April 2, 2018
R2D2, Trish in the Dish

Many folks visit Goodwill outlet centers for cheap clothing or household goods, cheaper even than what you can find in a regular thrift shop. But at the store on Date Drive in Sacramento, you can often see Paul X. Stewart sorting through hardware bins for materials that eventually find their way into steampunk projects.

His creations include a steampunk R2D2, a portable time machine, and "Trish in the Dish," which was inspired by "Jan in the Pan" from the 1962 science-fiction horror film "The Brain That Wouldn't Die." Many of his works have been featured in the Artist's Gallery at the Clockwork Alchemy convention in the San Francisco Bay area.

They're made from parts that include gears, typewriter keys, napkin rings, cocktail swords, lamp pieces, and salt and pepper shakers. He also uses cylinders from old desk calendars, which look "kind of time machine-ish," he says. One piece, a mechanical arm, uses a grabber toy to make the hand open and close.

Once he's collected the parts and conceived the project, he does "lots of drilling, lots of bolting and lots of grinding," he says. He also applies a generous helping of glue.

The outlet experience

The outlet centers are operated by local Goodwill organizations in many states. Items that don't sell at the regular thrift stores are sent to these locations, where they're placed in bins and sold by the pound.

Much of the merchandise is "junk," he says, but you can also get "awesome finds for cheap." The stores are known for the aggressive behavior of the customers, but he's met "some great people who have become good friends."

Shoppers are advised to bring gloves, and it helps to have a second person to guard the shopping cart while you're looking through the bins.

You can find listings of local Goodwill outlets in the Emporia sections of our city guides. You can also look up outlet stores across the country from the Goodwill Industries International website. Another website, Goodwill Outlet Store Locator, has listings of outlets by state and includes helpful shopping advice.

Paul was building model robots about 10 years ago when he began to see steampunk designs and became fascinated by the style. "At first, I didn't know the name 'steampunk,'" he says. "I just liked the Jules Verne, H.G. Wells stuff. I liked the look. It was so ornate. Plus, you can make this from scrap and it still looks good."

You can learn more about his work from his website. See the gallery below for examples of his projects.

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