Image: Tom BanwellAt the intersection of futurism and romance, steampunk marries Victorian steam power with science fiction technology. Think of the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, or, from a more modern perspective, BioShock and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. There’s not much that embodies the ideas of steampunk more than these steampunk gas masks — creations of leather, resin, brass and copper that, in an eerie and freakish way, show our fear of a dystopian future disaster. Ukrainian workshop Bob Basset and American leatherwork artist Tom Banwell are masters when it comes to repurposing unwanted materials and recycling them into steampunk works of art!
Image: Tom BanwellSentinel is a creation that combines a fire helmet, a gas mask and a collar that seems to be modeled on a medieval design. In any case, this reddish brown and gray creation is supremely stylish.
Image: Tom BanwellIf an elephant were ever in need of a gas mask, it could wear this amazing creation, called Pachydermos. Each detail has been painstakingly put together from repurposed, recycled materials. The trunk, for example, was once a commercial vacuum cleaner hose that Banwell covered in lambskin wrapped with waxed thread.
11. Victorian Stormtrooper
Image: Bob BassetThis next piece, the only one in a lighter leather tone, seems to provide evidence that stormtroopers existed even in the Victorian age. Just imagine the British Empire guarded by a legion of spacemen, under the not-so-evil emperor, Queen Victoria (always dressed in black, mind you).
10. The Steampunk Diver
Image: Bob BassetBob Basset is the name of a workshop in the Ukraine that makes unique, high-quality steampunk art, mainly consisting of masks, but also including sculptures and armor. The workshop team consists of Oleg and Sergey Petrov and Andrei Patlin and Andrey Makaruk, who have 20 years of experience in leatherwork. They use materials like stone, metal, resin and glass, and their steampunk gas masks feature brass, copper and leather as you will see.
9. The Steampunk Freak
Image: Bob BassetThe leather and brass elements that make up this amazing construction have been brilliantly repurposed and adapted to their new function. The mask’s lensed eyepieces and covered mouth are more than a little reminiscent of the gasmasked Hellboy villain Kroenen.
8. The Sidekick
Image via walyouSince starting out with dragon bags and sculptures in 2008, the Bob Basset workshop has become an underground success. The four artists have since moved on to leather vests and creepy octopus masks (check them out!) and to this series of stunning steampunk gas masks.
7. Steampunk Insect
Image via walyouCombining black leather with shining metal details, this piece looks positively medieval. Reminiscent of a gladiator’s helmet and of an executioner’s cowl, there’s an awful lot going on here — and you can just imagine this Victorian spaceman striding across a could-have-been battlefield of a future that never came to pass.
6. Steampunk Diver Meets Nuclear Disaster
Image via walyouThe next mask features lots of brass, copper and leather, so you’re sure to create some attention wearing this cool piece. If you’re not wading at the bottom of a lake, that is.
5. The Anteater
Image: Bob BassetThis deluxe version of a steampunk gas mask looks positively stormtrooperish. The tiny brown buttons look like microphones that connect the wearer with the outside world. Or maybe they directly transmit the wearer’s thoughts. We wouldn’t be surprised.
4. The Friendly Bear
Image: Tom Banwell
Tom Banwell is another artist who focuses on steampunk art — gas masks, fire masks, underwater equipment and helmets in particular. Amazingly, Banwell is self-taught and received no formal art training. Before turning to steampunk art, he tried out a variety of media, including batik, woodcarving, mixed media art dolls and leatherwork. The Penn Valley-based artist explains his preference for steampunk: “Creating art in a steampunk genre suits me exceedingly well because it combines several of my interests — history, costuming, mechanics and fantasy — and I can bring these together and get wildly creative in my leatherwork.”
3. Victorian Gas Mask Chic
Image: Bob Basset
Banwell scours his neighborhood, from junkyards to yard sales, for just the perfect piece that will fit his creations — “yardsailing,” he calls it. Then, each recycled piece is adapted to the design and often given an antique look to achieve the desired effect. The design in black above, for example, almost seems to be winking at the viewer with its two brass eyes.
2. The Cyclops
Image: Bob Basset
Ah, finally a gas mask for a cyclops — or possibly a triclops! Not only can the middle eye finally see, but it is also concealed as a fashion accessory among the two regular eye slits.
After designing, making and selling Western leather men’s hats throughout the U.S. for many years, Banwell now focuses on custom designing and creating resin pieces. For his own creative leatherwork, Banwell uses this experience and incorporates resin components into his artwork. He says about his preference for headgear and masks: “Today I find my greatest creative expression in fantasy masks and helmets. I love experimenting and seeing how leather will behave when cut and soaked and twisted. I love the shapes and the colors, and how my masks and helmets can instantly transform the wearer into a whole other character.”
1. Fire Master Helmet with Gas Mask
Image: Tom BanwellBanwell’s most amazing design comes complete with a fire master’s helmet, reflecting the artist’s love for details and authentic design. This trooper is apparently assigned to the “Gryphon Interplanetary Aeroship Expedition,” where firemen will presumably be much needed!
We really don’t know which one of the 13 amazing steampunk gas masks featured here is the best, but the fact is that all of them are incredibly creative and crafted with love and incredible attention to detail. As for the practical purpose of these bizarre, custom-made oddities, many get used on the sets of movies and shows, such as So You Think You Can Dance. The next time you watch TV or the movies and find a creation that looks oddly familiar, you might be looking at the designs of Tom Banwell or Bob Basset.