Travelogue de Mode: Maker Faire!
Created by wilhelminaframe on 7/8/2013 8:43:33 PM

Editrix de Mode Wilhelmina Frame and photographer Brownlee Currey of RBC Image get some DIY sightseeing at San Mateo's Maker Faire.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I first went to Maker Faire in 2012, but the mad mix of science fair refugees, artistic desert nomads, corn dogs, kids, unlikely hipsters, bizarre vehicles and even more, was fabulously, not it. My partner in science or crime or photography, Brownlee Currey of RBC Image memorably summed up that first Maker Faire as “kinda like the State Fair but with more robots and more fire.” I was lucky enough to find myself within striking distance to the 2013 San Mateo Maker Faire. More prepared to digest the experience, I can now report on the adventure.

Maker Faire was started by Make Magazine to “celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset.” a The two-day exposition, filled with makers, workshops, competitions, food, insanity and craftyness, is held both inside and out at the cavernous San Mateo County Event Center. The dirty art flavor of Burning Man collides happily with the hi-tech engineering of northern California. (Oracle provides satellite parking for the event.) You may at first be dazzled by the drones, robots and 3-d printers, but soon after you will catch sight of art cars, bicycle monsters and a life sized Mousetrap game. Maker Faire is not the place to wear your bustle gown. This is where you get down with the dirty side of Steampunk. Get ready mad tinkers, reckless adventurers and dusty alchemists!

While the Maker Faire map showed a devoted Steampunk area, I personally found it a rather uninspiring outpost of commerce. I also noticed that the make your own Steampunk goggles stand was “sold out” of bookings half way through the day. As they say, your mileage may vary.

In my estimation, Steampunk was really going on elsewhere, in ethos and flavor, if not in name. Many makers and exhibits referenced a Steampunk aesthetic while not self-identifying as such. A personal favorite, Project Junktopia, was created by Janet Schriever “to inspire the minds of Junktopians everywhere to re-imagine their world through crafty play.” Junktopia is a whimsical miniature world created by Schriever with craft supplies, recycled objects and other bits, bobs and pieces of junk. Junktopia can only be accessed by “people who have time machines and that are okay with not knowing exactly where they are going”. In Junktopia, you build your own world, sort of like a recycled dollhouse. Ms. Schriever has also created super cute characters who live in Junktopia. They would make incredible stuffies.

The cyclists of the Whiskeydrome would probably happily answer to punks, but maybe not Steampunks. The Whiskeydrome is a piece of insanity inspired by Keith’s Bicycle Track, a traveling, turn of the century, open fence bicycle track and daredevil show. Riders race and do tricks while pedaling around a 5 feet high, 26 feet across and pitched at 65 degrees track. You could definitely lose your snoot by leaning over the edge as the riders zip by. The whoosh from the cycles felt fabulous in the hot California sun. The boys of the Whiskeydrome are affiliated with the Fun Bike Unicorn Club, a loose collective of builders and rabble-rousers who “happen to love bikes and unicorns.” They also inspired the Bomberdrome, a group of like-minded Brits who built their own barrel track.

The sweeping "it" tech at Maker Faire was the Arduino. (Don’t know what the Arduino is? The video on this page from MAKE magazine will explain it way better than I can.) The seeming ease of simple programming and actions that the Arduino can control really excited me with the possibilities of making Steampunk weapons and objects that can actually do things, even if those things are only pings and flashes. A bizarrely entertaining application of the Arduino was the Transformations, Emotional Deconstruction (TED) installation by artist Sean Hathaway. Mr. Hathaway wired together 80 Teddy Ruxpin bears and programmed them to recite emotionally charged content gathered from an internet data stream. My intrepid companion Brownlee, was quite fascinated with the installation and talked extensively about its particulars with the exhibitors. Brownlee was soon gifted with a brand new hacked bear to take home and experiment with. He was about to politely refuse due to lack of luggage space until I loudly thanked the artists and snatched the bear out of their hands. As a costumer, I have no idea how to program the Arduino I bought to run the beast. Supposedly, it’s not so hard? Watch this space for an update on my potentially inappropriate mechanical talking bear.

So now I’m sure you want to go see Maker Faire for yourself. First off, while San Mateo is the oldest Maker Faire event is far from the only Maker Faire event. Flagship (big) Maker Faires are held in San Mateo, Detroit and New York. There are smaller Maker Faire events held across the US and even overseas throughout the year.

If you opt to go to San Mateo, here’s a tip – carpool, take public transport or just park in the satellite lots. Driving to Maker Faire can be quite an exercise in frustration. Also, if you come from San Francisco, Maker Faire can sometimes be the same day at the Bay to Breakers race, an SF institution that will literally shut the city down for a few hours in the AM and make it impossible to leave. You can get lots of practical updates from the free Maker Faire mobile app. Happy travels and happy making!


All images: copyright 2013, Brownlee Currey / RBC Image.

A video of selected images from Mr. Currey is below!



Editrix de Mode and Part Time Lion Tamer, Wilhelmina Frame travels the globe in pursuit of adventure and style. When not in the circus ring with Rajah, her tiger and the rest of her “Kitten Kabal” (seven lions, three cheetahs and a rather droll panther), Ms. Frame can be seen at the most fabulous parties, in the latest fashions, sparkling with wit in conversation. Ms. Frame is the founder and Tiffin Master of The American Tea Duelling Society. Ms. Frame's alter-ego, Gretchen Jacobsen, is a freelance producer, award-winning costumer, prolific crafter and frequent convention panelist. She sings quite well also. Visit the home of The American Tea Duelling Society on Facebook, follow Ms. Frame on Pinterest or @ptliontamer on Twitter. 


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