Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.
For Jaime Peterson, being geeky was a family affair, thanks to the influence of an older sibling.
“My older sister, Jessica, was really the geek of the family,” she said. “As I got closer to adulthood, she began lending me her anime collection, and that’s when the geek in me really took off. I was hooked with anime, and we started going to conventions.”
Peterson then began exploring sci-fi and fantasy literature.
“The stories just felt like home to me,” she said. “After that, it was a free fall. So I was a ‘late bloomer’ in finding my geeky side, but it is definitely who I was meant to be.”
The 30-year-old educator and artist’s current favorite fandom is steampunk, a sci-fi subgenre that is grounded in alternate history and speculative fiction where steam-based power reigns supreme. Steampunk borrows influence from both the Victorian era of Great Britain and the Wild West in America.
“As an artist, I am drawn to old and industrial things; as a geek, I am drawn to fantastical worlds and characters,” she said. “Steampunk literature and aesthetic really scratch all the itches in my brain.”
She counts “The Difference Engine” by Gibson and Sterling as a favorite novel from the genre.
Translating steampunk to pottery
Peterson took up pottery eight years ago, thanks to a friend, and it’s been a hobby and skill she continues to return to.
“I’ve moved a lot and taken breaks from pottery, but I always come back to it,” Peterson said. “In what seemed like a chaotic life in many ways, pottery is my constant rock. In many ways, I didn’t ‘get into’ pottery—pottery ‘got into’ my soul.”
New to Chattanooga, she decided to forge her own way—and let the steampunk influences she loved so much take center stage in her work. She creates under the moniker Silent Earth Ceramics.
“I’ve had a lot of different pottery mentors over the years, and I always sort of pick up their aesthetic while I’m working with them,” she said. “When I moved to Chattanooga, it was my creative ambition to spend time experimenting and finding my unique voice rather than finding a new mentor.”
A one-off commission for Borg-inspired mugs led to multiple pieces with steampunk-inspired elements, most notably machine gears and rivets. Translating these ideas from concept to a finished piece of pottery can be challenging yet rewarding, she said.
“One of the hallmarks of the steampunk aesthetic is intricate details,” she said. “I love this detail work, but it is tedious and time-consuming. For instance, it will take me on average three hours longer (not including the normal drying and kiln times) to make a steampunk mug than a straightforward mug.”
Steampunk is a fairly new aesthetic in the pottery world, but Peterson has been greeted with support. Steampunk fans have given her work the extra push and inspired her to add nautical themes to her work.
“As an artist, I feel like I deposit a bit of myself in everything I make, and I wonder sometimes if my work is happy in its new home,” Peterson said. “When I sell a piece at a con or a festival, I am never worried about it leaving me. I know it is loved and appreciated. That’s really the best feeling I can have as an artist.”
Peterson sells her steampunk creations on her Etsy shop but also as a vendor at traditional craft shows, such as Ketner’s Mill and some fandom-focused events such as the Louisiana Steampunk Festival and Steampunk November. She continues to play with the medium of pottery and enjoys seeing where her imagination takes her.
“I’m making dragon and dinosaur eggs lately, but outside of that, I haven’t really looked to switch directions too much right now,” she said. “I’ve still got so many ideas and feel like there are so many areas of the genre I haven’t really fleshed out yet. I feel like I’m going to be doing this for a while.”
Rachel Stewart grew up in the ’80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered “Doctor Who” and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority—a “Doctor Who” fan group—and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who and ConGT. She also reviews “Doctor Who” novels and “Big Finish” audios at “The Oncoming Storm” podcast. Want to show off your alter ego? Email Rachel at [email protected].