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Steampunk artist reignites passion

May 26, 2023

OROVILLE — Made from something old, something new, with just a few things glued, Kay Wilson uses cold metal joining to create her unique steampunk clocks, jewelry and treasures.

“Cold metal joining involves the use of wires, rivets and pins, no soldering and only a dab of glue to adhere crystals or charms to a piece,” explained Wilson.

Steampunk combines images or items from the industrial era including machine parts, mechanisms, cogs, rivets and clockwork among other things with, art and design concepts inspired by the Victorian-era.

To get the pieces she needs to create her art, Wilson spends time “cracking open” old non-working clocks, some dating back more than a century, taking them apart and cleaning the springs, gears, casings, faces and hands to create new time pieces, earrings and pendants.

“I’m just fascinated by old clocks, the gears and mechanisms are just absolutely amazing. I love to dismember them once they’re dead,” said Wilson. “It’s brilliant really, how people put them together. It astounds me. I love to take clocks apart and then put them together in new ways to show other people how beautiful they are.”

Wilson created her first piece in 2010 when her son-in-law saw a steampunk belt buckle online.

“Steampunk was all the rage then,” said Wilson. “I looked at the buckle on line and thought, ‘I could make one’ so I did.”

Wilson enjoyed making the buckle and started scouring thrift stores for old watches and clocks she could use to make more pieces. Soon word spread about her new “hobby” and friends began donating items to her. It wasn’t long before the steampunk artist had drawers and drawers of old watches, single earrings, antique pins and “all kinds of other stuff.” What you won’t find in the artist’s drawers is any “plastic or electronic junk.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the stuff I use is vintage, recycled, upcycled,” said Wilson. “I do use new wires for the earrings I make and some new crystals and charms but even some of those are reclaimed. The table and wall clocks I make from old clocks also incorporate a new clock that works, tells time.”

Wilson’s hobby grew into a business she named, KatyDid, and she sold many of her items from her home and through local businesses. Then in 2014 she took a three month trip to New Zealand to visit family. While she kept all her “treasures and tools” and her work space in a small spare bedroom of her home, she drifted away from her art when she returned.

In the spring of this year Mary Hartley who, along with her partner Celeste Cramer, owns Tom Foolery, an eclectic gift store in downtown Chico, was visiting Wilson she saw a wall clock the artist made and “fell in love with it.” Hartley asked Wilson if she had any other pieces and would she like to sell them at store.

“I didn’t have anything but I could make some things,” said Wilson. “When I sat down again and started creating, I got pretty obsessive about it again, and I’m loving it.”

And so are the customers at Tom Foolery who purchase KatyDid clocks, jewelry and trinket boxes for themselves and also as gifts, said Cramer.

“They feel like they’ve found a treasure they’ll never come across again which, is true,” said Cramer. “They are unique pieces you can’t find anywhere else. They are vintage pieces that come from all sorts of clocks and gears and they all have a little story which is written on the back of the card that comes with them. It’s fascinating.”

In addition to their “origin stories,” each of Wilson’s pieces have a name. “Goin’ out Tonight” is necklace that sparkles with crystals; “You Are My Sunshine,” is a lapel pin with a sun on it; and “Fairy Potion,” is a necklace with a small working clock, a fairy and a small potion bottle. There’s a table clock that looks like a porcupine called “Pork-u punk” and another that incorporates the face of an old Mickey Mouse watch as well as a skate key that resembles the famous mouse called “Just Mickey Mouse.” A wall clock made from pieces of old clocks and a new timepiece sprinkled with tiny gold honey bee charms is called “Time to Bee.”

Creating her steampunk art — whether it’s a pair of earrings or a table clock — is “like solving a puzzle,” said Wilson.

“I’ll have a piece that inspires me. Then I start fiddling around with it and other pieces, coming up with more ideas and solving problems like how am I going to get the pieces to fit and hold together just right,” said Wilson. “It’s a fun exercise. I’ve fiddled around with stuff all my life. I love to fix things. I love to find out how things work. Sometimes I sit down to work on something and when I look up again, it’s four hours later. Sometime not much else around here gets done.”

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