CAMDEN – Steampunk, or cyberpunk, as it is sometimes referred to, takes its roots back to the Victorian Era. Take any object and apply brass, wood, iron or leather, then throw out any concept of aesthetic design while adding rivets and a weld or two.
Camden resident Jack Churchill prides himself on tossing aesthetic design right out the window and creating steampunk designs that do nothing short of grab your attention and hold it like a deer in the headlights.
Churchill’s passion is motorcycles. He owns many. From beautiful antique pieces to those like the big boys run at Isle of Man.
Then there are those unique pieces he’s added his own flair to create a steampunk bike. One of which is on display at the Owls Head Transportation Museum.
A steampunk dune buggy probably everyone has seen around town came next and as of late his passion has turned to guitars.
“Probably for the same reason I do motorcycles,” said Churchill. “I love building stuff. I’m not particularly good at it, but for some reason I’ve gotten inspired by this Victorian technology. The copper, the brass, the rivets, the leather, for some reason it inspired me and there’s something about it I love.”
Churchill readily admits he’s not a very good fabricator.
“You can get away with all sorts of mistakes in this business,” he said. “Mistakes are just part of it and I really don’t know why. Maybe I didn’t have enough time in the sandbox when I was young. To me when I build something perfection is the enemy to idea and creativity.”
Churchill said he likes to work at a certain speed. He likes the handmade, funky look that things take on.
“I really think that perfection gets in the way of having fun,” he said. “Some people love just doing the perfect job, that’s what gives them satisfaction. With me I’d rather let the idea stream flow and avoid the frustrations of having to do a perfect job.”
He never knows what something is going to look like until it’s done.
“I usually have something in mind but the fun of the process isn’t necessarily building what’s in my mind,” he said. “The fun is in the discovery process. You come upon these really cool things you can add that you never thought of before.”
Churchill equates it to making films.
“The fun in filmmaking is that you can go out there and shoot exactly what you want,” he said. “And it’s really not that fun, but the stuff you discover while you’re shooting that’s what makes it fun. I also love entertaining people with the surprises that I build. They can look at something and say that’s the dumbest solution I’ve ever seen to that problem. That to me, particularly with the car, makes the whole process fun.”
Funky will attract a person just as quickly as sleek and perfect.
“I think it attracts a lot more,” he said. “Especially in a town like this that tries to be close to perfect. When you see that car on the street and it’s so antithetical to the whole narrative of the town, it surprises people and delights them. It’s the same thing with the guitars.”
Churchill started making the guitars last fall.
“I only have four or five,” he said. “The car took me five months and some of the motorcycles have taken me a year. Compared to building a steampunk car, guitars are a no brainer. That means I can do more and more variety.”
Some of Churchill’s guitars are covered in steel, some in leather.
“The last on I did is covered with an old set of Swedish work pants that I wore out,” he said. “That gives it a texture and a felling. Each on is different and I don’t have to spend a lot of time on one. I can move on to the next one and totally change the theme.”
Churchill plays a lot of guitar while he builds his creations.
“I’ve been a guitar player all my life, but I had left it,” he said. “I left it for career and business, but now I can revisit it and I’m revisiting it pretty seriously. I love hanging out at K2 Music. A lot of people that are into it hang out here if they’re into it. The K2 guys, Mac and Harvey, are great players, they’re fun and love music and musical instruments and that’s why I’m here.”
Churchill said his first creation is always the most extreme. His first guitar started out as a baritone.
“The first on is always the most extreme and then I ratchet it back,” he said. “My first motorcycle is in the Owls Head Museum and that’s a mess. It’s still cool, but it’s a mess. And then I ratchet back, I get more sophisticated. I think in a way that the first one you do, you try everything that comes into your head. Then you realize that if there is some way you can sub size that down aesthetically into a theme then they get better.”
Churchill said the work gets more refined with focus.
“The first one is just a joke and then you start focusing on what you like and what looks good,” he said. “My favorite now is the last one which is the one that’s made out of a pair of pants. I love the texture and the look.”
Mac Economy, co-owner of K2 Music, who is himself an abstract artist, commented on Churchill’s guitars on display at the store.
“People’s first reaction is what the heck is this,” he said. “Then they ask, can you explain this to me. They are dumbfounded because they’ve never seen anything like it. The Baritone or Tuba Caster we call it, guitar for starters because it’s a totally unique piece of gear. It draws reactions. People either look at it and say gross or they say it’s the most unbelievable thing they’ve ever seen.”
It started, said Churchill, as a Baritone Horn and was married to a Stratocaster guitar. Economy said people are so taken they want to buy it on the spot.
“It’s such a bold statement,” he said. “You either love it or you don’t and I happen to love it because it breaks the boundaries of the conventional every guitar should look the same.”
Cars, motorcycles and guitars. Churchill hopes to stay away from lamps.
“That’s when I know I’m getting really close to the dirt nap, when I want to start doing that,” he said. It’s all a part of what I’m interested in at the time. If you’re interested and enthusiastic, you go full on. Right now I play guitar all the time. Blues. And so I’m full in on this in every possible way.”
He wants a guitar that looks the way he plays.
“I aspire to funky electric blues,” he said. “I don’t want a slick, expensive guitar. I want to play something that looks the way I play. Some of these, like the cloth one, they resonate with the way I play and spire to sound.”
Churchill says the items on display are not for sale.
“Just like my motorcycles, I don’t sell them,” he said. “If somebody likes it enough, I give it to them. I can’t possibly charge and get monetarily out of it what I’ve put into it. I wouldn’t want to charge them. It’s much nicer for me to just give it to them knowing they really love it.”
“Is it art?
“A lot of people would [say so],” he said. “They look at the car or the motorcycles and say that‘s art. The only reason I don’t call it that is because the word at large has been stolen and manipulated by so many people who don’t deserve to use the word that I refuse to become part of that category.”
Churchill says there are other categories he could fit into.
“I could be a mechanical visionary, I could be some kind of a visual innovator, I could be a nut case,” he said. “Nut case is probably where most people would put me. The word art is so perverted, it just doesn’t mean anything. Barbara Streisand can call herself an artist, but she is not an artist. She’s a singer. You shouldn’t call yourself an artist. You should let other people do it.”