“Makers” Thrive

“Makers” Thrive

L’École des Beaux Arts at the Wythe Hotel
photo: LDBAbrooklyn.com

On a frigid Tuesday evening in November, people bundled in scarves file into a softly lit event space at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. Greeting them with hugs is hostess Sara Moffat, owner of the Brooklyn-based, online fine art supply store, L’École des Beaux Arts, which also holds classes for the artistically minded child and adult. This evening’s 11 students, all twenty- to thirty-somethings, gather around a long wooden table littered with paintbrushes, small logs, multicolored tapes, antique pocketknives, and shining acrylic paints. Mellow tunes from the Brooklyn band, Beach Fossils, waft up to the high ceiling. Tonight’s class: the Adult Arrow Making Workshop.

Moffat is one of a growing number “makers” working and residing in Brooklyn. She and other artisan friends teach classes such as indigo dyeing, botanical studies, and analogue film photography. “I believe in tools and skills and experience and enriching your life,” she said. An artist and designer herself, Moffat started “LDBA” (as people in the know refer to it) classes one year ago to create a place where people can create art at their own pace, with professional artisans. “What I want to do is have a place where people can just come get dirty and stained,” she said. “I want people to know what oil paint smells like.”

The students present at the arrow making workshop delighted in getting down and dirty, using their hands as much as their brushes to paint and stain the wooden arrows-in-progress. “I’m such a little kid,” said Louise Ingalls Sturges, an artist and friend of Moffat’s, as she used her hands to bathe her arrow in bright green paint. “There’s just something so satisfying about having paint all over your hands!”

The “maker movement,” along with the “DIY movement,” includes entrepreneurs who start businesses committed to producing hand-made products; the idea is to cut out the middleman and teach the customer how to create things themselves. The movement, which encompasses any type of physical creativity, is also largely based in new technologies, such as 3D printing. Mark Hatch, the CEO of the do-it-yourself workshop, TechShop, writes in his book, The Maker Movement Manifesto: “Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create, and express ourselves to feel whole. There is something unique about making physical things.”

The Textile Arts Center

The Textile Arts Center
photo: textileartscenter.com

While the “maker movement’s” goal to change the face of American industry is certainly ambitious, the reality of the movement in Brooklyn translates into a different message within its small businesses. In the packed workshops of Williamsburg and Gowanus, the true heart of the movement seems to lie in a renewed appreciation for simply making things that are your own, whether functional or decorative. In a society in which one can buy anything and everything online and virtually live in front of a screen, the “maker movement” reinforces the desire to reconnect with people face to face. Moffat wants to cultivate people’s “respect for visuals, artwork, and respect of each other and other people’s process,” she said. “If you’re just alone on a tablet you’re not really doing that.”

Owyn Ruck, native Brooklynite and co-founder of the Textile Arts Center in Gowanus, is another proponent of providing the community with the materials needed to foster professional expertise or simply learn a new hobby. “It is about connecting to skills and preserving skills that are being lost,” she said. TAC hosts eight artists in residence who undergo a nine month professional development program in which they have individual mentors, their own studio space, and attend workshops in technology, business, and theory.

The Textile Arts Center also provides hourly and ongoing classes taught by freelance artists and designers; Erin Considine, a local jewelry and textile designer, recently taught a weekend intensive class on how to make coiled bowls. Ruck said learning directly from successful designers increases people’s appreciation level for the product and “allows them to connect more deeply with what they are making.”

The Bedford Cheese Shop

The Bedford Cheese Shop
photo: bedfordcheeseshop.com

The maker movement extends into retail shops as well; places such as Williamsburg’s Bedford Cheese Shop and Gowanus’s Brooklyn Homebrew have developed classes in food and drink to satiate the human desire to create, or “make.” The Bedford Cheese Shop established a special teaching venue called the Homestead where students can take a tour of American whiskey and cheese or make several basic cheeses in Cheesemaking 101. Brooklyn Homebrew’s owner, Danielle Cefaro, said their beer brewing classes in Gowanus are structured so that an enthusiast can start with the basics, in Homebrew 101, and move their way up to courses in advanced techniques, such as Advanced Yeast. People can also purchase brewing equipment, beer ingredients, and homebrew kits and make beer in the comfort of their homes.

Ultimately, Brooklyn’s version of the “maker movement” appears in its people’s yearning to pick up new skills that simply make them happy and fulfilled, rather than propel them to techie greatness. Anna Sheffield, a Brooklyn-based fine jewelry designer who attended the arrow making workshop, said she loves the classes at LDBA because of the collaborative process. “I love sharing knowledge with my friends and learning about the cool things they are able to do,” she said.

Moffat said the purpose of her hands-on classes is to surround herself and her students with talented artisans and keep learning as much as possible. “This stuff satisfies something on a deeper level for me,” she said. “I think that’s the key: figure out what makes you thrive and go with it.”

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