Tinker time

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2009 - 2:55 PM

Once a month, some enterprising folks, many of them strangers, get together to have some serious fun by building stuff at Studio Bricolage, an offshoot of Leonardo's Basement

"Jackie, bring back the world," Jane Copes hollered across the cluttered, cacophonous basement. Shortly a cohort appeared with a globe, a key element in the Rube Goldberg-like contraption that Copes' team was constructing.

But alas, the world was not big enough, weight-wise, for its mission: to roll down a toboggan onto a set of skis, then loft up and land on an upside-down roasting pan that flips and sends a Styrofoam axle rolling into a pulley, which triggers the next phase of the "mousetrap." Happily, a bowling ball was up to the task.

Ingenuity and improvisation are all in a night's work at Studio Bricolage, where once a month a few dozen folks gather to engage in "playtime for adults," as participant Amy Ballestad calls it. In a south Minneapolis basement, endeavors ranging from fire-spinning to ice-sculpting to cricket-roasting bring out creative and cooperative talents in folks who often begin the night as strangers.

"It's like a cocktail party for art, science and math, things like teaching people to make a musical instrument out of garbage," said Ed Vogel, a member of the nonprofit group's steering committee. "Mainly the goal is to get a bunch of people who've never met to work together and build something. And we have pizza."

Studio Bricolage is an offshoot of Leonardo's Basement, which has been holding kids' classes that mix art, science and technology since 1998. Over the years, said Leonardo's director Steve Jevning, parents kept asking "Hey, what about us?" That provided the impetus to start a similar program for grownups just over a year ago.

Bricolage is French for "to fiddle, tinker," and the group's mission statement calls it "a 21st-century, community-driven art, craft and technology playground for creative and adventurous adults who want to tinker, get messy, make mistakes, try again, experiment, geek out, chill out, invent and have fun in a casual, informal setting."

Casual and informal certainly were the order of the evening earlier this month, when about two dozen enterprising souls of 20- to 60-somethings built a contraption that started with a toilet flushing at one end and about 75 feet later finished with a bang.

Actually, the painted flag that would pop out of the "gun," Wile E. Coyote-style, read "BNAG."

"That's Irish for bang," Vogel quipped.

Casual collaboration

The task of connecting the two ends kept a coterie of small groups and individuals busy for several hours. Bill McTeer fiddled with a baking soda-vinegar concoction that would drive the process from the bathroom to a fan, above which Ballestad and Eric Hofstad tried in vain to suspend a plastic plate in mid-air. "This is why I have a day job," muttered Ballestad, who works in marketing.

"Try some corrugated cardboard," said Ted Goessling, a salt-and-pepper-bearded IT expert who bounced around the room helping others and "indulging my missing career, the path not followed."

Nearby, Copes and Janet Groenert were re-jiggering and refining the bowling ball-toboggan segment. "What's the rat gonna do? Oh, excellent!" Copes said, when shown how a stuffed rodent would bounce into the air, just for show. The toboggan alone required a bamboo plant and two 12-packs of beer to stabilize it, the better part of a roll of masking tape to hold down conduit tubes for the ball, and five paint cans to immobilize the stool propping it up.

"It's like, you don't have anything to do on Friday night, well, come down here and mess around, meet some people and chat with people and make something," said Groenert, who by day is the science-camps coordinator at the Science Museum of Minnesota. "It might work; it might not, You might learn something new, like how to use a tool you don't know before.

"We're trying to reach people who are not always geeks about something, who just have a creative streak or are interested in being creative."

There are certainly plenty of opportunities for that. The room is packed with raw material, dozens of drawers filled with hardware, plus sundry found objects, balls and toys of all sizes, a Bart Simpson doll, a short knight's suit bearing a tall hat, and an outsized Newton's Cradle using bowling balls.

Is everything in play? "Pretty much," Vogel said, "although I wouldn't want someone to take a hacksaw to a chair."

Human hand (and foot) helps

A new batch of pizzas from different parlors arrived every half-hour -- "That helmet could be useful," Vogel noted when the uniformed Galactic Pizza dude arrived -- and the pies were plopped down next to coolers of water, beer and Three-Buck Chuck wine. Radiohead and White Stripes tunes resonated throughout the room until finally, just before 10 p.m., Hofstad let out a whoop indicating that his and Ballestad's stick-to-itiveness had paid off in the fan portion and Jevning announced that it was time to test the device.

"All right, everybody in place," he shouted. "Grab a stick and hit something that needs to be hit or get your foot ready to kick it."

His call for human assistance proved prescient as the process unfurled. McTeer had to manipulate the baking soda-vinegar bottle. The fan did its deed and, after a 2-liter pop bottle exploded to the ceiling, a hair dryer melted some string, which sent a small trophy arcing and ... just missing the bowling ball. A nudge there led to the end game, and with a "BNAG," the contraption had fulfilled its mission.

A loud roar and a round of high-fives ensued.

"People are cheering," Jevning noted, "not because it went well, but because it went at all."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

  • related content

  • Ted Goessling tried to figure out how to make bowling balls pull a pulley during a class.

  • A paper suit let Studio Bricolage attendees know about next months class, as they assembled sections of a 150-foot causation machine on the floor of Leonardo's Basement.

  • STUDIO BRICOLAGE

    What: Monthly events, classes and exhibitions at various locations.

    When: First Friday of every month; each session lasts three hours. April 3 theme is "Building With Paper."

    Where: 4301 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.

    Cost: $10, food included.

    Info: www.studiobricolage.org or call 612-824-4384

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