Arts & Entertainment

I Make, Therefore I Am

Local makers showcase their creativity, inventiveness, and make-it-yourself ethos at the third annual Mini Maker Faire

The Kalispell Mini Maker Faire sits somewhere at the intersection between a craft fair and a science fair for techies, teachers, and tinkerers of every stripe. On Feb. 27, at Flathead Valley Community College, more than 30 local makers will exhibit weaving and spinning, origami folding, fermentation, bicycle maintenance, metal art welding, solar energy, tiny houses, robot building, patenting – the list goes on.

Just about anything “made” belongs at the faire and, really, it’s because there’s hardly a creative or curious mind that doesn’t fit the definition of a “maker.” The idea of what a maker makes and what a maker is doesn’t have to be any more complicated – or any more specific – than the basic word itself.  As Make: magazine, the publication founded in 2005 that inspired the flagship Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area and kicked off the wider Maker Movement, proclaims, “We are all makers.”

No one knows that better than Jeremy Ashby, a software developer at the National Flood Services in Kalispell, and an exhibitor at the Kalispell Mini Maker Faire three years running.

“There isn’t anything specific [about being a maker,] it’s a self label, more of a spirit,” he said. “You don’t have to be a geek, I don’t call myself an artisan.”

The freedom from defined boundaries touches on something important about the movement: Anyone can make anything. There’s no pigeonholing.

“I build things—not just any one thing,” Ashby said.

He welded a metal frame for his pickup adorned with Montana State University bobcats. And though “it’s the thing I’m most proud of,” he said, he also admitted, somewhat proudly, “I’m not a welder.” But he is a maker, and no project is off-limits, too difficult or technical to attempt.

Last year, Ashby brought an inkle loom, which is designed to weave yards of narrow fabric, and a rope-making machine to the faire. The year before that, the first year that Kalispell hosted a Mini Maker Faire, he brought a handful of homemade instruments, including a cigar box guitar, a copper xylophone, triangles, and a rawhide drum.

“My kids were taking a music class, learning music theory,” Ashby said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll make some musical instruments.’ So I was on a musical instrument kick for a while.”

That’s how a maker looks at the world: Everything and anything can serve as the inspiration for the next project. At this year’s fair, Ashby plans to show off primitive fire-starting techniques. That’s a nod to his membership in the Flathead Valley Muzzleloaders, a group celebrating the ingenuity of centuries past by re-creating their ancestors’ tools of survival and everyday life, often down to the littlest detail, like stitching clothing with homespun thread and a bone needle.

“In the 1800s, instead of camping in Gore-Tex or Mountain Hardware, they had wool and canvas,” Ashby said. “They did that for thousands of years. We should be able to, too.”

The Maker Movement shares that streak of self-sufficiency. One of its mottos is, as Ashby said, “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it. You can’t take your iPhone apart, but you can take your car apart and fix it.”

There’s a touch of anti-consumption, a make-it-yourself vibe, in the Maker ethos, too. As is true for the Muzzleloaders, Makers want to be able to fix things themselves, make things themselves, futz with things themselves. Within the Movement, there’s a sense of reconnection with something that we’ve lost, as humans, now that factory robots assemble most everything we rely on. Still, there’s no larger social critique present: Makers make for the joy of it. And the Kalispell Mini Maker Faire is an occasion with family friendly fun at its heart.

Ashby says he has been “putting things together and taking things apart” since he was young, and hopes to instill that hands-on inquisitiveness of how things work in his own kids, as well as their peers. His favorite part of the Faire is demonstrating, showing children something to be excited about and intrigued by. Last year, he helped youngsters make somewhere between 40 and 50 ropes, and let them all take some home.

“Hopefully some day they’ll see it, and be like, ‘Here’s that rope I made!’” Ashby said.

And maybe that’ll inspire them to make more things—physical things, certainly, but they might also be inspired to make the next generation of self-described Flathead makers,

The Mini Makers Faire runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Flathead Valley Community College, and admission is free.

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