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Drawing by Suzanne Forbes of Jake von Slatt (r) and Datamancer (l) in The Contraptors Lounge at Maker Faire Bay Area 2008

Drawing by Suzanne Forbes of Jake von Slatt (l) and Datamancer (r) in The Contraptors’ Lounge at Maker Faire Bay Area 2008

The sad news began to percolate widely today, in that strange way that things do these days, that Richard Nagy, aka Datamancer, aka Doc, had died, reportedly in a car crash, this past Thursday (Update: Since this article was posted, sadly, MAKE has learned that Richard committed suicide). Doc was steampunk maker OG (“original gansta”). One of the most celebrated steampunk artisans, his beautifully fabricated keyboards, laptops, and baroque desktop computers (heavy on the “desk”) became synonymous with the genre. It’s hard to find a book, article, or web gallery about steampunk that art doesn’t feature some of Datamancer’s work.

Datamancer was my introduction to steampunk. I think (though memory is a trickster) that it was through a link on his site that I discovered Jake von Slatt, and Jake was pretty much my portal to everyone and everything else in the budding steampunk maker world. I spent hours on Doc’s site when I first discovered it. Besides his impressive steampunk mods, he had awesome car restorations (a 56 Chevy Pickup and 64 Caddy), cosplay creations, and other impressive makery. Many of his links were 404, pages still under construction, and there were initial parts of promised multi-part project articles. Those links are still 404, those pages still under construction, and those project articles were never completed (and now never will be). Like a lot of super-creative, overly ambitious people, Doc was always restless, in creative motion, always on to some new, spectacular project. Tragically, that motion will now be frozen into history.

Richard was one of the principal people behind The Contraptors’ Lounge, the steampunk program we put together for the 2008 Maker Faire Bay Area. The Lounge brought together for the first time many icons of the steampunk scene, and also resulted in the “Lost Knowledge” issue of MAKE (Volume 17).

Magpie Killjoy, of Steampunk Magazine, remembers meeting Datamancer at the 2008 Faire:

The first day I actually knew steampunk meant something to people was at the The Contraptors’ Lounge. It was, for a lot of us, one of the first gatherings of those of us who cared about steampunk. And it was the first time I met Datamancer. And while his work was part of the foundation of modern steampunk culture, he was just a down-to-earth guy, in a way that immediately impressed me. I was glad to be part of a scene that held up an artist who hadn’t let it go to his head, someone who just did whatever the hell he wanted to. That’s what I got out of knowing Datamancer. My friends knew him better than I did, but I’ve always respected him and the culture he accidentally spawned.

Musician Nathan Johnstone, formerly of the band Abney Park who were also part of the 2008 great gathering of the steampunks, writes:

Doc’s work was an inspiration. His craftsmanship was solid and his designs were beautiful. His work is the gold standard for steampunk mods and only a scant few can claim to match its beauty and sophistication. So many steampunk artists got their start following his example.

I am so sad to hear about his passing. He was one of the few steampunk makers I knew in person. I first met him at the 2008 Faire. That was a special time for me; many of my best friends today are people I met that weekend. I will miss him greatly.

Like many others, Seattle artist and photographer Libby Bulloff was always struck by Richard’s impressive eye for detail and his desire for real-world functionality in his otherworldly creations:

I finally met Doc at the 2008 Faire, but as long as I can remember, I envied his eye for detail and meticulous lust for functional beauty. Every aspect of his keyboards conveyed a respect for craftsmanship, for nuance–from the handwritten script on his space bar to the polished brass edges of his resurrected typewriter keys. I remember putting my fingertips on the keyboard of the Archbishop, the piece Doc showed at our 13-person steampunk gallery event, ANACHROTECHNOFETISHISM, later in 2008 and thinking: “This feels right.”

Doc wasn’t simply a gifted tinkerer, he was also a truly lovely person who made time to answer my nagging questions, made me laugh with his genuine smile, and made me want to create meaningful but practical art, like his. The world feels off-balance without him, but he left behind so much inspiration and excitement that will continue long into the future, and for that, I am grateful.

I didn’t really spend that much face-time with Richard, but he was a pivotal figure for me during an important period in my life and within maker culture in general. And as with other impressive analog fabricators, like his steampunky pal Jake von Slatt, Mister Jalopy, and Jimmy DiResta, Richard’s passion for making and his seemingly effortless aptitude for fabrication made it all look so damn easy, so DOABLE. And that’s always inspiring.

On top of all of that, Richard was just such a sweet, generous, and all-around decent human being. As one friend put it on his Facebook page: “I didn’t know you long enough, Doc, but I knew you long enough to know the world is worse off without you.” I think all of us who knew him, to whatever extent, feel exactly the same way. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, his wife Kim, and everyone who knew, loved, and respected Richard “Datamancer” Nagy. We love and will miss you, bro.

And if we soon start seeing angels, whether risen or fallen, flitting about in clockwork, mechanical wings, we’ll know exactly whom to blame.

 

The Astounding Craftsmanship of Richard “Datamancer” Nagy

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Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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