Wednesday, May 19, 2010

maker faire

We have never been a family that makes an annual pilgrimage to Disneyland or rents the same beach house for a week in August. Instead, we look forward each year to the Maker Faire.

The Maker Faire was started in 2006 by O'Reilly Media, publishers of Make and Craft magazines. It has one purpose, and that is to celebrate the joy of creating--or in O'Reilly's coinage, of making.

For those types who always have some project or other going, it is like a weekend in heaven--if your heaven can tolerate hot asphalt and enormous crowds, that is.

I am willing to make the exception.

We were in attendance the very first year, where we saw the soon-to-be familiar themes of 


(this room was filled with old machinery expressly for dismantling and looking at from inside)

and bicycles
(he is stopped here, but grasping the broom handle with both hands and zooming through the fairgrounds, he actually did appear to be flying)

We have been to every Bay Area Maker Faire since, even managing to time a trip to Austin to coincide with the 2nd Maker Faire held there. In Austin we saw laser-printed tortillas, rode the camera-equipped Yahoo Purple Pedals, and placed memorial marigolds in the giant Dia de los Muertos skull.

Our attendence has gradually evolved into a predictable weekend. We travel with a group of like-minded friends. We eat roti prata at a favorite area restaurant. We look forward to seeing the mobile cupcakes, the art cars, the Cyclecide, the Swap-O-Rama-Rama, the robot battles, the Tesla Coil, the Lego room, and so many of the now-traditional aspects of the fair. 

But we also go in anticipation of discovering something new and fun and inspiring. Someone walking on hoof stilts, perhaps:
Or a multi-rider bicycle in the form of a snake skeleton:
Computer geeks, fiber nerds, musicians, and budding artists (that would cover our family quite easily) all find their tribes at the faire. So do steampunk enthusiasts, sculptors, scientists, green advocates, and performance artists. 

Here is a quick list of some of the things I remember the kids doing over the years:
  • creating armatured clay figures and a few second of claymation video
  • dissecting a plastic frog
  • playing an electric cigar box guitar
  • painting customized rubber duckies
  • making instant ice cream using dry ice
  • walking a maze with auditory guides shaped like giant mice
  • joining a jam session
  • going on a scavenger hunt using scanner-equipped smartphones
  • printing t-shirts of their original designs
  • making mini bots, marshmallow shooters, wooden cars, Chinese takeout boxes and sock monkeys
Many of the projects we had already done at home, but there is something to being immersed in an environment where this kind of creative fun is the whole point. And our Coke and Menthos experiments at home were nothing like the gigantic fountain that is set off each year on the fairgrounds.

We have also listened to some amazing talks, sat in workshops, learned how to solder, how to make different kinds of molds, how to build an aerial camera with a kite. We've heard about hacking the mind, building an airplane, drawing cartoons and animating movies.

Perhaps my favorite Maker Faire memory is of the knitting drummer from 2007. Drumming with oversized knitting needles, he simultaneously knit a large, woolen square: ta-dum! loop. ta-da-dum! loop, loop. It was at once perplexing, ridiculous, and outrageously fun. And what more natural place to do this than at a festival dedicated to thinking outside the box?

Well, gee, a quick search is all it takes these days--here he is:

This weekend is my hometown's Tour de Cluck, which I'm sorry to miss--who wouldn't want to take a bike tour of backyard chicken coops? I'm also sad about missing a friend's memorial service, carefully timed so that her favorite roses would be in bloom. My niece is performing in her first ballet recital--an occasion that will be even more memorable for her lively personality, I'm sure. And yet it's never been in question where we would be: at the Maker Faire, celebrating the things that are important to us--independent thinking, community spirit, innovation and perserverance, the joy of making one's life.


  1. This place looks like heaven to me! I could see the kids and I enjoying it so much! How cool you get to experience such awesome out of the box stuff!

    Isn't this where you scored me the business card spirograph last year? I just love it.

  2. You have the best memory--yes, that's where that was from!

    Can I entice you all in coming for a visit now? ;)

  3. Well, how young are the kids in those photos! You absolutely did find your old pix so you're much better organized than you make me believe!

    Love the Potter broom! (Stilts are a little scary for me)

    Have a great time and we'll be looking forward to the post after!

  4. I just chatted with you on Twitter about cats eating messes (I know--not the most charming topic) and realized I haven't looked at your blog in ages. And you guys are in our part of the world, too. We're in Mendocino.

    We are huge Maker Faire fans! Do you know about Make magazine? Our 13-year-old unschooler couldn't get through life without it.

  5. We had a subscription to Make for years, but finally stopped after the magazines were accumulating. We should look at it again.

    Great to know we'll get to met up next year at the Maker Faire!


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