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.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
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.”
THE MAD SCIENTIST
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.
A FINE PIECE OF TAIL
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.”
SNAP, CRACKLE, POP
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.”
A GLOW ABOUT HER
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.”