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Introducing the innovators of Maker Faire

Kansas City’s third Maker Faire at Union Station brings together art, science, technology and inventions from across the country.

Bob Spangler, a steampunk enthusiast with the group Steamship Noir. This weekend group will be at Union Station, site of the Maker Faire, a festival for invention and creativity,.

Luis Rodriguez coordinates Maker Faire, a festival of invention and creativity, this weekend at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.

Ryan Bell created her own wearable technology with a custom-made dress that lights up. The dress includes small octopuses made from a 3-D printer.

Jordie Smith has created a wearable animatronic tail that he controls with special gloves.

Austin Feathers wore a copper glove he crafted to safely absorb the lightning bolts created by his Tesla coil. Feathers will appear at Maker Faire, a festival of invention and creativity.

Hana Spangler, part of a duo with her sister as a pair of mad scientists.

Jenna Tomlin, a steampunk enthusiast with the group Steamship Noir. This weekend he group will be at Union Station, site of the Maker Faire, a festival for invention and creativity.


Maker Faire will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Union Station, Pershing Road and Main Street. Get tickets online at makerfairekc.com or at the station. A one-day pass is $10 for adults; $7 for kids 12 and younger. Weekend pass: $17.50 for adults, $12.50 for kids. Family, group and Union Station member rates also available.

In addition to makers and demonstrations of all kinds, there will be live music and food trucks. Lowrider custom cars will be displayed on Pershing Road, which will be closed. Michaels will have a semitrailer truck with craft-making stations. Science City will offer activities for kids and families, including food demos in the test kitchen. Local and national speakers will be on a stage inside.

Find details and the schedule on the website.


Luis Rodriguez, 37, is the “process and programming specialist” at Union Station, which this time of year translates to ringmaster of the spectacle known as Maker Faire.

Q. Are you a maker, too?

A. I am. I got into the maker movement via 3-D printing. In 2010, I built a 3-D printer and then needed help and joined a local hackerspace. This year I’m the president of that group.

What do the people there make ?

I’m with a group called Cowtown Computer Congress (c3kc.org). Originally they started so people could pool together tools and knowledge.

What have you made with your 3-D printer?

Everything from fun stuff to functional. Most often we’re printing parts for other people’s projects, or we’ll go to events and just do demos. It’s a tool like anything else, so artists use it for one thing and engineers use it for another. Hobbyists use it for everything from trains to banana hooks, or whatever you need.

Are you an artist, too?

Not a fine artist. I study graphic design, so that’s where my interest in computers started. I grew up with uncles and a grandfather on a farm in Iowa, and for them, making was a necessity. Hiring someone to do XYZ wasn’t really (an option); you just kinda did it.

Do you get inspired by what you see at Maker Faire?

Yeah, that’s what we hope. (What people bring) doesn’t even have to be finished projects; it can be in progress. We just hope that people leave inspired to try something. And that they know about groups and resources in the community: the steampunk group, the hackerspace group, the knitting circle, an engineering student club, anything.

You recently returned from the big Maker Faire in the Bay Area.

It’s interesting. I’ve been to one in Iowa that had 30 tables and then the Bay Area has like 900 booths. They all have the same feel … just different scales.

And at Union Station, the making won’t stop with Maker Faire, right?

This year we’re launching (in Science City) what we call Maker Studio, a permanent space to do Maker Faire-type activities all the time (for kids and adults). The first piece of equipment we bought is called a ShopBot, and it cuts wood. It’s computer controlled. That’ll allow us to create exhibits for Union Station, cut out furniture and who knows what artists will come up with.


Three floors below ground level at Union Station, photographer David Eulitt was thrilled by the visual possibilities of the grand old structure’s elevator pump room. The room is now just a display, but back in the day, the hydraulic pump systems — original to the 1914 train station — powered 67 elevators and the moving staircases that took travelers from the North Waiting Room down to the tracks.

Of the maker portraits you see in this issue, the image of Austin Feathers creating lightning was definitely the biggest challenge. For one thing, the bolts of lightning caused Eulitt’s strobe lights to flash on their own, willy-nilly. Plus there was the potential danger: 300,000 to 400,000 volts of electricity shooting out of the Tesla coil machine.

“This is why I don’t do wiring in my house,” Eulitt joked.


The first Maker Faire took place in the San Francisco area in 2006, and it’s still going strong. These days, the other flagship event is World Maker Faire New York, set for Sept. 21-22 in Queens. Kansas City is one of several cities that hold “featured” Maker Faires (so designated because they attract at least 200 makers). Our area has also hosted “Mini Maker Faires.”

Maker Faire is licensed by Maker Media, publisher of Make magazine, which features DIY technology projects.

The Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City brought Maker Faire to Union Station in 2011. The foundation, which views the event as a springboard for innovation, entrepreneurship and technology advances for the region, continues as a major sponsor.


The organizers of Kansas City’s third annual Maker Faire want to make one thing clear: It’s not a craft show!

But what is it?

“They say it’s like a county fair and a science fair mixed together,” says Luis Rodriguez, producer of the event, which will take over the inside and outside of Union Station this weekend. More than 300 “makers” will be participating: inventors, artists, robot builders, scientists, urban gardeners, tech enthusiasts and yes, even crafters — in general, DIYers of all stripes and all ages.

The “festival of invention and creativity” is more show-and-tell than buy-and-sell, Rodriguez says. One question on the makers application: “Do you have a hands-on activity for attendees?” Interaction is important. Just handing out brochures won’t cut it.

Maker Faire Kansas City will spotlight some maker acts from around the country, including ArcAttack, which uses bolts of lightning to make music; EepyBird, the guys who do experiments with soda and Mentos; and the Power Racing Series, with souped-up electric kids’ cars competing on a track. But the real stars are the garage-tinkerers next door. Meet a few of them here.


Maker: Jenna Tomlin, 34, an Overland Park artist

At Maker Faire: She’ll be aboard Airship Noir — figuratively, anyway. That’s a local group of steampunk aficionados (facebook.com/airship.noir).

Time out for definitions: Steampunk is a re-imagining of the Victorian era. It’s a subgenre of science fiction, but “steampunks” don’t have to be fans of alternate-history lit to embrace the 19th-century look. You often find steampunks/steampunkers donning goggles or fancy face masks to avoid the coal dust and burning embers in the air. Yep. Sometimes they give their modern-day electronic gadgets an 1800s makeover.

Back to Maker Faire: Tomlin and friends will demonstrate acid etching on tiny copper disks. (Copper and brass are big in steampunk circles.) Visitors can make their own designs. The Airship crew will also show how to give something a copper coating using a battery, salt and vinegar.

Hot in the city (of London): Back in the days of steam power, corsets were strictly undergarments, but steampunk style is to let corsets and bloomers show. And hats are back in vogue. (Airship Noir’s “steamstress,” Celine Collins, makes and sells steampunk fashions at Monkey Wrench clothing, 1214 McGee St.)

Quoteworthy: “By and large, steampunkers are a culture of people who make stuff. We make our gear, we invent gadgets, we ask ‘what if?’ a lot and then try to make it happen.”

Maker Faire in one word: “Creativity.”


Maker: Hana Spangler, 19, of Overland Park, who’s studying theater and history at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa

At Maker Faire: Hana’s dad, Bob Spangler (seen on the cover), introduced her and 16-year-old sister Marta to the world of steampunk, but what the sibs do at Maker Faire could probably be termed performance art. Hana plays a scientist in the vein of Dr. Frankenstein (Marta is the lab assistant she created). The girls recruit passersby to sit in their chair as they pretend to perform experiments, and at some point the victim gets a jolt. Nothing harmful. Last year they had a Jacob’s ladder-type contraption enclosed in Plexiglas. A spark jumps across two antenna-looking things.

“All it does is give them a fright,” Hana says. “People take pictures and I send them on their merry way.”

Talk the talk: Oh, and Hana speaks with a pseudo-Russian accent. Her character’s name: Yekaterina Maksimova.

Quoteworthy: “It’s really cool for us all to be in the same place and exchanging ideas like this. It’s just a great mix of lots of different kinds of making.”

Maker Faire in one word: “Universal,” because we’re all makers of one kind or another.


Maker: Jordie Smith, 22, of Raymore. He has studied electrical and computer engineering at UMKC, but these days he works at Built-to-Spec, a company inside makers community Hammerspace (in Brookside) that makes enclosures for microcomputers.

At Maker Faire: Last year Smith and a friend showed off a pair of “wasp wings” she’d asked him to make. The wings were about arm’s length and flappable. And this year? He has built a 3-foot-long animatronic tail. For humans. Why? “’Cause I wanted one,” he says.

For now his tail (made of ABS plastic and printed on a 3-D printer) can move side to side and curl up. Smith controls it with sensors he wears on his hands: When he waggles a pinkie finger, the tail wiggles.

The rest of the tale: Smith has an animal alter ego, a bionic lemur named RoboLemur. The idea is that the plastic tail has replaced the creature’s original tail, which suffered some tragedy.

His ultimate goal is to sell animatronic tails, probably to the furry community. (Definitions vary, but in general, furries are fans of anthropomorphic, or humanlike, animals in cartoons, fiction and other art forms. Some furries look the part, especially at meetups. Some don’t.)

Quoteworthy: “I’m still working on figuring out how to get it to swing without hitting my own legs. … It primarily wants to either hang straight or curl up partly.”

Maker Faire in one word: “Intense.”


Maker: Austin Feathers, 19, of Overland Park. He’s studying electrical engineering at KU.

At Maker Faire: He’ll be making lightning with his Tesla coil contraption, which resembles an oversized barstool. Tesla coils are named for Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a Serbian-American electrical engineer and inventor.

“A lot of the devices he used, he was trying to transmit power wirelessly through the air, but a lot of times his machines would spit large bolts of lightning everywhere,” Feathers says.

Note he’s wearing a copper “cage” over his fingers.

Might as well jump: Feathers performed lightning shows at last year’s fair, but that was “a barbaric design compared to this one.” Plus, the lightning transmits music — Van Halen, for example. “We use the lightning as the speaker.” You have to see it and hear it to believe it.

He’ll also bring a turbo jet engine he built to Maker Faire.

Quoteworthy: “It’s not a science fair at all. It’s just people looking into the things around them and saying, ‘What can I do with that?’ … just really messing around for the fun of it.”

Maker Faire in one word: “Creation.”


Maker: Ryan Bell, 29, of Kansas City. She teaches toddlers at a Montessori school, and this summer she’s lead technology teacher at a Science City summer camp.

At Maker Faire: She’ll demonstrate “wearable technologies and soft circuits” — a dress she made that lights up, thanks to electroluminescent wire. The design of this dress, which can either glow continuously or blink, was inspired by octopuses. It also has little plastic octopuses on it, which Bell made on a 3-D printer. She’ll have make-your-own-glowing-bracelet kits at her booth.

Working on: A dress that will light up in response to certain amounts of light. Plus: nail polish with metallic flakes that would react to magnets.

Stand back, honey: Ever get a blow-up cake for your birthday? We’re talking dessert that actually goes ka-boom, and it’s nothing new for Ryan and husband Matt Bell, a fellow sculptor and “science nerd.” It started with an “Acme Bomb” birthday cake she made him, complete with a fuse. They took it to a field and blew it up.

Quoteworthy: “She has a totally skewed vision of the world,” says Ryan of the couple’s 3-year-old daughter. “We’re always doing crazy experiments.”

Maker Faire in one word: “Inspiring.”


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