‘Maker Party’ blends art and tech craft for kids

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For many children, Saturday mornings are a time for goofing off with friends, playing games on their iPad, learning gymnastics or competing on a team in an athletic tournament.

At a Saturday “Maker Party” organized by the Sprout Fund, hundreds of parents and children stoked their creativity by producing everything from art to videos at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District.

At a dozen different stations, children and adults could story-board a movie, build puppets, learn gardening basics, sew, make a mobile app or dip their hands in water to create homemade textured paper.

The basic steps of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen process were available through a mobile app and Stephanie Garrison, a member of The Andy Warhol Museum’s education department, was there to walk people through creating a Warhol-ized version of ta picture of themselves.

There was time to be silly, too, a requirement for all truly fun Saturdays. Children who moved a bicycle pump up and down then pressed a red button could launch jet-puffed miniature marshmallows into the air, an utterly irresistible activity. 

“Usually, we use this to launch paper rockets 200 feet in the air,” said Julie Pompizzi, events coordinator for TechShop Pittsburgh, located in Bakery Square in Larimer. “We’ve had a lot of repeat customers,” she said.

On the ground floor of  the Society for Contemporary Craft was a long table staffed by Kimberlyn Bloise from the Union Project’s ceramics program. Lydia Conner, a third-grader from Murrysville, was oblivious to everyone as she focused intently on painting pink underglaze on the sail of a clay ship she made and named the S.S. Lydia.

“This is up her alley,” said her father, Matt Conner.

Another popular draw was producing handmade paper from a sticky, watery mix of cotton, soda ash and Japanese knot weed, an invasive plant that grows in abundance here. The teacher, Albert Pantone, is a recreation therapist who works at the John Kane Regional Center in Glen Hazel and lives in Larimer.

“I didn’t know that this was how you made paper,” said Grace Banke, 15, of New Kensington. 

Neither did Mr. Pantone until 2000, when he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. For a design class project, he created a bottle, logo and packaging for a fictional Japanese rice wine known as sake. It did not make sense, he decided, for the bottle label to be printed on a computer.

With his Boy Scout training plus knowledge of  environmental education and medicinal plants in the Amazon, he learned how to create a handmade paper label. He finds Japanese knot weed in vacant lots in Larimer while his brother, a landscaper, supplies him with ornamental grass that has been cut. 

He calls his sideline, “Knot Just Weeds.” For several hours, Mr. Pantone patiently showed children of all ages how to apply ornamental grass to their wet paper and trim it before it dried.

Ani Martinez, a program manager for the Sprout Fund, favors the arts as a key educational component.

But equally important, she said, is a Sprout Fund initiative called Remake Learning Digital Corps that trains educators and volunteers in digital literacy, then sends them into 25 neighborhoods in Allegheny County to teach that subject to children.

When school lets out, 50  Digital Corps members teach children how to create a website, make a video, build a mobile app  or share interactive stories, animations, music and art online.

“It’s sort of like a new digital literacy,” Ms. Martinez said, adding that the Mozilla Foundation has helped the Sprout Fund work with children who drop into local libraries. 

Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1648

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