Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire offers world of builder delights

Look for the RockBot holding its prized guitar at the Mini Maker Faire.
Look for the RockBot holding its prized guitar at the Mini Maker Faire.
Published March 21, 2013

An award-winning Star Wars Millennium Falcon outfitted with Mac and PC parts, a truck with working Wi-Fi, a penguin made from typewriter parts and scrap metal, a ray gun necklace and robots are just some of the Upcycled Studio creations set to dazzle attendees Saturday at the second annual Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire in Shady Hills.

Holiday couple Diana and Ken Swallow, the creative duo behind the collaboration called Upcycled Studio, are making their debut at the event. Diana makes jewelry from brass, copper and sterling silver, along with as many recycled materials as possible, such as gears, vintage buttons, electronics, found objects and "anything that could look good in jewelry." Ken makes sculptures from scrap metal, electronics, old typewriters, vintage items and "mostly things that other people see as junk."

Along with their sculptures and jewelry, the couple will have a display for attendees to guess what several different parts come from.

Before forming Upcycled Studio, Ken installed burglar alarms for ADT, while Diana was a graphic designer for Valpak. After a series of job losses, Ken started making things with old computer parts that he had lying around the house. The Swallows posted a Facebook photo of Ken's Trike Bike, which was so well received that it prompted them to start selling their designs on Etsy, a website that allows artists to set up virtual shops.

The Swallows began selling their work separately, under the names Diana Swallow Designs and KenArt or KenBots. After building a large Internet following, they joined forces and created Upcycled Studio, allowing them to participate in shows together under one name.

Last year, the Orlando Mini Maker Faire organizers found Ken's work on Etsy and invited them to attend.

"I had no idea what to expect because he's the geeky one," Diana said with a laugh. "I had never heard of a Maker Faire and he had only heard of them online."

The Orlando Mini Maker Faire was full of things that Diana couldn't have imagined.

"I was sitting in our booth and R2-D2 came by," Diana said. "How often does that happen? Then it became a parade of R2-D2s."

The Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire is a regional offshoot of the California-based Maker Faire sponsored by MAKE magazine, which began in 2006. Since its inception, Maker Faire has begun supporting regional events around the country. Last year, the nonprofit Learning is 4 Everyone organized the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire's inaugural event at the University Area Community Center in Tampa.

This year's local event expects about 30 inventors, creators and organizations displaying their wares, several workshops on topics like patent and invention development and sparking creativity, and many hands-on activities at the event's new venue at the Concourse.

The gathering brings its unique blend of science fair and carnival ambiance to Pasco County largely because last year's event drew such an unexpectedly big crowd.

"(Last year's event) went really well," said Terri Willingham, Mini Maker Faire coordinator and president of Learning is 4 Everyone. "That's why we moved to a larger facility. We were modestly hoping we'd get 150 people and we had about 350 people."

The venue isn't the only new thing. The Deconstruction Zone hands-on exhibit, winner of the 2013 Deconstruction Award, will allow kids to deconstruct old furniture and electrical appliances like radios, toasters and drills to see what they look like inside.

Willingham said her favorite moment during the debut of the Deconstruction Zone at the USF Engineering Expo in February was one of silence. When the kids realized that they would be able to take things apart without worrying about breaking anything, they were speechless.

"(The Faire is) to celebrate a more productive culture, so we can be active producers, instead of passive consumers," Willingham said. "This is a really fun way to introduce kids and adults and people of all ages to the idea that we are all makers."

Samantha Fuchs can be reached at or (727) 869-6235.