For Gabby Bitsura, 6, and her dad Mark of Moon Township, Maker Faire Pittsburgh was a perfect choice for a daddy-daughter day. “I think for a little girl, it’s important to see what options are out there,” Bitsura says.

The two checked out the first-ever national Maker Faire in Pennsylvania on Sunday, billed as the greatest show-and-tell on Earth, with its collection of hands-on exhibits, workshops, lectures and performances, and Bitsura says he was impressed.

Kids created spiral art with a ride-on Spirograph.

For her part, Gabby was hard at work with a ride — on Spirograph, the creation of maker Marty Swartz. The contraption had pieces of chalk attached to to a frame that included bicycle parts, and an 80-pound weight, all affixed to a Razor scooter. When a rider piloted the scooter in a circle, with the weight at the center, the Spirograph’s chalk pieces created a colorful spiral design.

And of course, creating things was the the whole point of the event; the Faire featured roboticists, jewelry-makers, fiber artists, blacksmiths (OK, one blacksmith), drones, programmers, educators, parents, kids and others at the Children’s Museum and the soon-to-be revamped Nova Place in Allegheny Center. Several thousand people, and an undetermined number of robots attended Maker Faire Pittsburgh during the two-day event.

Hundreds of artists showed off their handiwork at Maker Faire Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Kidsburgh.
Hundreds of artists showed off their handiwork.
Making Spin Art using custom-made machines and recycled vinyl with Handmade Arcade at Maker Faire Pittsburgh. Photo by Handmade Arcade.
Making Spin Art using custom-made machines and recycled vinyl with Handmade Arcade.

Maker Faire originated in the San Francisco area in 2006, attracting more than 22,000 people to a collection of makers working in new, tech-oriented areas. The movement has grown since to include international maker faires in New York City, Rome and Paris.

Education has been a key focus of Maker Faires, and Pittsburgh’s was no different. FIRST Robotics teams from area schools showed off the robots their classes made, to exacting specs. BirdBrain Technologies presented a Robot Petting Zoo, with creations by teenage makers. And the Oasis Project, which fosters social entrepreneurship among kids in grade 4 through high school, had on display many of the items its students made.

But even though there was a heavy robotics contingent, and a deliberate focus on STEAM education, there were plenty of less high-tech makers featured in the Makers Market. Deborah Seewald of Mt. Lebanon started her Devorah Naturals organic skin care products as a way to offer a healthier alternative to her five daughters. She had a booth at the Maker Faire between a jewelry maker and a wood carver. “It’s so interesting to see all the different things people are making, all the different creative talents,” she says.

Tricia Brancolini-Foley (l) and Jennifer Baron of Handmade Arcade, with Dale Dougherty.

Dale Dougherty, executive director of Maker Media and the creator of Maker Faire, says Pittsburgh is a model city for the Maker movement, due in large part to its manfacturing history.  “There’s a legacy of steel and being a place where things are made, and feeling a sense of pride about that,” he says. “Pittsburgh’s a city where people collaborate and tap into resources to bring together arts and technology in really good ways.”

Dougherty, who’s also chairman of the Maker Education Initiative, said he was heartened by the number of families he saw at the weekend event, as well as the variety of makers who brought their creations to share.

“I don’t know how else you’d bring all these different people together in the same context,” he says. “People seemed to be really happy, and really having a good time.”

Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor who spends way too much time on Twitter. Her experience includes crime, features and business reporting, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh. She was a 2015 Kiplinger Fellow in Public Affairs Journalism at the Ohio State University, and is a founding member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Online News Association.