Destination: Do It Yourself

A small crowd of people gather outside a warehouse on the industrial fringe of Ferndale on a recent muggy Saturday, eyeing the two-story figure swathed in white paper, its yellow duct tape pants and black duct tape shoes peeping out at the bottom. Young men in black t-shirts mill around, making last minute fixes to the structure.

Finally, the moment they're all waiting for arrives. The paper is torn away to reveal a two-story likeness of Canadian television host Red Green, his plaid shirt made from duct tape and Tyvek plastic sheeting glinting in the sun. Moving his massive wood-framed arms and raising and lowering gray eyebrows, he roars a welcome to the assembled crowd.

Then, flames shoot from his open mouth.

Even Red Green himself, in attendance at the unveiling at "art and technology collective" i3 Detroit before a show in the area that evening, is suitably impressed. "Now that's a good night at the lodge," he says.

All this begs the question, "What would possess a person to create a giant mega-Red Green? Why make it breathe fire?" And the answer (other than, of course, "why not?") is "To bring it to Maker Faire."

Maker Faire is the ultimate gathering of geeks, a showcase for all things creative, original, techie, and just a little bit odd in arts, crafts, engineering, science and technology. It's coming to The Henry Ford in Dearborn this weekend, one of only three cities to boast the event this year  -- which is something of a coup for Detroit's hacker and creative communities.

Maker Faire is sponsored by MAKE Magazine, a quarterly publication which features off-the-wall, interesting projects. There's also a blog, book series, and more serving those who make outrageous, inventive, and just plain cool things in their garages, basements and backyards.

On the surface, it might seem an odd match for the venerable Henry Ford, which is best known for housing the innovations of the last century and a half. But Marc Greuther,  chief curator of the institution, thinks it's actually a perfect fit.

"History is a living thing," says Greuther. "It's not just in the past. There are all these congruencies between what's driving people who read MAKE magazine and the people we hold dear to our hearts here, like Thomas Edison or Henry Ford or Buckminster Fuller."

More than 300 people will be exhibiting at Maker Faire, showing off projects ranging from homemade cars to handmade crafts. Here's a closer look at three of them:

Nick Britsky: Robot-Monster Maker

Britsky is the creator of the Red Green robot and director at large of i3 Detroit, (home of many of the projects to be shown at Maker Faire). He was inspired to do the Red Green robot, he says, essentially as a publicity stunt to get some more attention for i3 Detroit.

"I heard he was coming to the Royal Oak Theater to do a show, and I was trying to figure out what crazy thing we could do to get Red Green to tour our shop," he says. "I figured building a giant statue out of duct tape would be something he would do."

Britsky claims it took about two months and 80 man-hours to finish the project. First 'Red' was framed out in wood and the mechanics added, then 22 rolls of duct tape – all donated by 3M – were used to fashion the pants and shoes. Green's trademark plaid shirt, however, took some doing. Britsky, along with some friends, ended up laying out the plaid pattern on Tyvek – the same stuff of which shipping envelopes are constructed – and fashioning that into a shirt.

The fire breathing? That was just because it was cool.

Patrick and Nicole Robichaud: Xenomorph Puppet Masters

A 15-foot cell-like creature, a colorful yet skeletal fish – they are not your cuddly Elmo-type puppets. They are art.

Husband and wife Patrick and Nicole Robichaud are high school sweethearts who met doing theater. He's a molecular biologist, she's a graphic designer – but Patrick says they play against type, teaming up to create one-of-a-kind giant puppets. He's most frequently the one to come up with wild, fanciful ideas, while she's the one who can translate that idea into a workable puppet form.

The couple got interested in making their jumbo-sized simulacrums after attending Ann Arbor's Festifools parade, and began building large street puppets in 2007. Patrick has always wanted to go to a Maker Faire, and after seeing that the event was coming to Detroit, convinced Nicole that they needed to exhibit their work.

The Robichauds will have puppets of all shapes and sizes at Maker Faire, including an original work from their three-year-old son, Jack. (Sister Claudia is 4 weeks old and not quite ready to craft her own).

"It's an ongoing love affair for my wife and I in terms of things we do together, and I'm excited to be bringing our kids up in this sort of environment," Patrick says.

Matt Switlik: Game Master and Instrument Maker

Switlik, another i3 Detroit director, will actually be displaying quite a few projects at Maker Faire: a homemade skeeball machine, a Nerf dart shooting range, and a variety of handmade instruments like a cigar box guitar and a wine crate bass. Perhaps the most impressive of these, however, is the Beer Growler organ.

Beer growlers, for the uninitiated, are glass jugs that hold about a gallon of draft beer. I3's former space was near Royal Oak Brewery, and as such a fair number of growlers were lying around during the move-out. Switlik wanted to do something with them, and eventually devised the idea for the organ.

The growlers are filled with water so that when a handmade bellows is attached to hoses and air is forced through, musical notes are produced. After some tinkering, Switlik's got 13 notes lined up in a pattern of scales, sharps, and flats.

This is not the inventor's first time to the dance. Switlik's taken his projects to several gatherings around the country, but he's particularly looking forward to Maker Faire. "It's no fun having the science project if you don't have the science fair," he says.

Today's hackers and makers are the sons and daughters of the autoworkers who rebuilt their own cars or built their own wood lathes out of castoffs from the factory – and in Detroit, more of us came from this background than not.

Sherry Huss, director of Maker Faire, says that spirit is what drew the organizers to bring it here. "The environment in Detroit is just decimated from a manufacturing perspective, but through all that there's new engineering, there are younger folks moving to Detroit with a can-do spirit, and the folks who are left are banding together for the benefit of the community."

Amy Kuras is a Detroit freelance writer. All her articles would be qualify as DIY. Her previous article for Metromode was I Was A Radioactive Mosquito Monster (or Pontiac Goes Hollywood)

Signup for Email Alerts