The word “maker” applies to everybody from bakers to welders, sculptors to knitters, DIYers to God. They toil or tinker all year, but the holiday shopping and party season is a prime time to notice them.
The Maker Movement is harder to define, but it involves a special kind of group determination, product quality, camaraderie and energy. You know it when you see it, and I recently saw it in spades in Portland, Ore., which considers itself a City of Makers.
What does that mean? All kinds of creative souls are working as one to make their labors known. They find a will and way to jump from hobbyists to small businesses with employees, often using locally produced or repurposed materials. By offering and talking up good, new ways to “buy American,” they strengthen their local economy.
At a City of Makers dinner, around two dozen key players took the podium, one by one, to tell their stories and introduce their products. They spoke off the cuff and were treated like rock stars: steady enthusiasm, hoots and applause, an occasional standing ovation.
Oaks Bottom Forge uses Old World blacksmithing techniques to meticulously produce hand-forged knives that look like art.
Portland Bee Balm makes lip ointment by blending wax from the owners’ honeybee hives with organic peppermint, coconut and olive oils.
Flipside Hats uses recycled fabrics to make fashionable, soft and reversible head coverings, especially for women experiencing hair loss because of cancer treatments.
Seated next to me was Lindsay Jo Holmes, a hardcore skateboarder whose MapleXO business recycles old skateboards to make earrings, bottle openers, kitchen utensils and more.
All the makers take pride in selling what they make on websites and locally owned stores, not Amazon or Walmart. Success might mean hiring employees but not hopping from “made by hand” to “mass production” methods. Their customers appreciate quality more than quantity.
Momentum has been building for a while. Out since 2015 is the book “Portland Made: The Makers of Portland’s Manufacturing Renaissance” by Kelley Roy with Peggy Acott. It is one part maker bios and one part a manual for starting a Maker Movement elsewhere.
“While people have ideas everywhere, here’s what sets Portland apart: When we ask for support from each other, we get it,” the book explains. “And we’re not afraid someone is going to turn around and steal our idea.
“Want to know what Portland’s Intellectual Property law is? ‘Don’t be a jerk. Don’t steal other people’s ideas.’”
For more about the Maker Movement in Portland, check out portlandmade.com.
Wisconsin certainly hasn’t ignored the Maker Movement, but efforts concentrate more on providing the space and equipment to create, learn and produce.
Milwaukee Makerspace “isn’t much of a commercial entity – we promote the making and learning of new skills,” says Pete Prodoehl, volunteer communications director. The effort is closing in on 200 members.
Milwaukee Makerspace and Betty Brinn Children’s Museum co-host the annual Make Faire Milwaukee, which Prodoehl says is the largest free-admission maker fair in North America. The event happens in September.
The annual Hover Craft, a shopping showcase for handmade items, is noon to 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Pritzlaff Building, 333 N. Plankinton Ave., Milwaukee. Admission is $5. Expect 100-plus vendors.
In Madison, nearly 100 are members of The Bodgery. “Our makerspace predominantly caters to the hobbyist looking for tools and space to make personal projects. We do have a few members that use our space to work on products in which they sell,” says Karen Corbeil, president.
“Since we do not focus on commercial makers, we do not have a system for helping them sell their wares.” But she counts these Madison businesses among those that champion the efforts of local makers.
Hatch Art House, 1248 Williamson St.: selling the works of at least 75 artists, all from Wisconsin and most from Madison.
Stone Fence, 2322 Atwood Ave.: selling unique gifts and home accessories for four decades.
Pieces Unimagined Furnishings, 1228 Williamson St.: specializing in industrial modern items.
Hazel General Store, 1250 Williamson St.: selling the handmade works of 100-plus U.S. artisans.
In Chippewa Falls, Club MTC’s focus is providing access to industrial equipment and technology, says spokeswoman Mary Kauphusman. “Most of our members are small businesses, entrepreneurs and hobbyists. We also enjoy hosting prop building and the robotics team from the local high school.”
When shopping in her area, don’t ignore Artisan Forge Studios, 1106 Mondovi Rd., Eau Claire, which Kauphusman describes as a collective for artists.