by Zoe Watnik
Participating at the Maker Faire was a fantastic opportunity to bring the story of Lewis H. Latimer to life for visitors to the Flushing area. Maker Faire brings together inventors, creative types, families, teachers, and artists, all receptive to anyone who wants to engage with them.
The sights and sounds of the event reminded me of a New York City street fair, filled with music and conversation, but all about the creative abilities and inventive spirit of those participating.
As representatives of the Latimer House, we were in a unique position to engage the public not only with the concepts immediately tied to Maker Faire, like creativity and innovation, but also with the house as a historic site.
So we brought the Latimer Trunk to Maker Faire.
What we’ve done so far in our pilot project for the Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums certainly shaped our ability to strengthen our connections with an event like Maker Faire. The Latimer narrative of invention was enough to begin drawing the basic connections, but our research into his personal life as a composer, poet, and community organizer, in addition to our reidentification of Latimer’s laboratory attached to the house as a “tinkering studio,” reinforces the idea that the concept of an inventor today moves beyond the idea of the mad scientist.
Some people were immediately interested in the trunk upon approaching us, others were drawn in by the Museum of Interesting Things, which had hands-on demonstrations nearby. However, the majority of visitors we interacted with had no familiarity with Latimer’s history. After giving those who stopped by a very brief overview of Latimer’s life (including the light bulb filament patent, his role electrifying Paris and London, his creative output as a musician and published poet, and his role as a community organizer), we asked visitors to respond to the Creative Spark prompt.
The trunk almost always caught the eyes of children, and through them, parents begin to approach the station. Adults were frequently hooked by the idea of the mobile house. Once drawn in, visitors seemed happy to learn something new about African-American history, especially when it was tied to creativity and invention.