Celebrating Women, Maker Faire Style

“Laugh and ask the questions,” Rebecca Anders, the artist behind Chester the Fire Breathing Horse Art Car and Tiki Hot Rod, stated as advice to women. Rebecca, a Michigan native who now resides in California, was one of the makers at the 2015 Bay Area Maker Faire held in San Mateo, California on last month in May.

Rebecca was the first of several women makers I talked to during the event. My goal was to find and chat with or learn about different women makers as part of celebrating Startup Grind’s Female Founders month (#SGWomen). Rebecca’s advice was in answer to a question related to women who want to Rebecca Anderswork in a field that is dominated by men, such as light manufacturing.

Rebecca said that when we can laugh at ourselves and not be afraid to ask the questions, fail at what we do, and fix and move on, then we will gain respect from coworkers instead of being seen as someone who is weak and an easy target. Rebecca added that self-love and self-respect are important too, and being able to roll with the punches. “When you make things,” Rebecca said, “you have to deal with stuff.”

Although Jason Anderholm was definitely the one putting on the show for me and others standing at their Maker Faire exhibit, he clearly and loudly stated that Rebecca was the artist. Rebecca and Jason are artists who work on projects together.

Jason had the idea for the first Art Car and wanted the horse head, now known as “Chester”, at the front of it. Creating Chester gave Rebecca the chance to work with a new medium - rubber. Specifically, Rebecca uses rubber from motorcycle tires, noting that bicycle tires were not thick enough for her. She begins the process by creating a metal skeleton and then molds the rubber over it.  The end result is a spectacular show, complete with fire. Fire was part of another exhibit dreamed up, literally, by the artist.

Kyrsten Mate had a dream one night and told her husband, Jon Sarriugarte, that they had to make what now is called the Golden Mean Snail Art Car. Kyrsten’s design was based on experience as a dressmaker. She drew patterns and Jon took the patterns and welded them together.

They also recruited several artist friends to be a part of the team, including Merrilee Proffitt. Merrilee and I had a discussion about being a woman maker and the fact that women do not always feel like they can be involved. “The biggest thing is showing up,” Merrilee said. On top of that, Merrilee stated that people tend to make assumptions. One example Merrilee gave was people coming up to Kyrsten and assuming that Jon made the snail for her, when in fact it was Kyrsten’s idea. An organization Merrilee mentioned that has been working to change some of these types of assumptions and empower women to be more involved in the tech culture is the Ada Initiative.

When it comes to tech and high fashion, the group known as MakeFashion were front and center on the runway and the big screen. A fashion show featured both days at the Maker Faire in the dark room allowed the audience to get a close-up view of wearable technology. As you might expect, each designer combined fashion and technology in their own way. For example, taking what is old, such as a wedding gown and adding their twist.

The founders of MakerFashion include a husband and wife team from Calgary, Shannon Hoover, the Technology Evangeslist, and Maria Elena Hoover, Event Director. Chelsea Klukas is the third co-founder and the Marketing Director and Designer Outreach and she currently resides in Seattle.

Double UnionSometimes for women to get involved as makers it takes a more focused community dedicated to creating a safe space.

Double Union is a hacker/makerspace in the San Francisco area designed to welcome all women. In California, and particularly the Bay Area, a variety of choices exist for those who want to get involved in a maker or hackerspace.

One of the questions I had for Hannah Griffin, a member who I met at the Faire, was to find out why there was a need for Double Union (DU). Hannah stated “Many of the existing hackerspaces are wonderful in many ways, but didn't quite meet the needs of a lot of DU's membership.”

Hannah stated that the participation in other spaces ranges for members. Some are active in every space in the area, while others may have went to one of them once and were not comfortable. Hannah believes that there will always be a reason for Double Union and stated “Even if every other hackerspace passes awesome anti-harassment policies and really cleans up their act, I think there will always be a need for Double Union or something like it.

Safety concerns aside, it's just nice to be around other women sometimes.”

(Photographer: Stacy Burdette)



About the Writer:

Stacy Burdette is the founder of Hacker Gals -- a makerspace-like community group, with a focus on women. She has a BA and an MBA from Western Michigan University, and is currently working on a degree in Psychology and Rhetoric and Writing Studies. Stacy enjoys volunteering and being involved in the Kalamazoo community.