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story.lead_photo.caption Whitney Waggoner (rear left) and Camille Rule, both with Arkansas Circus Arts, watch Saturday as Emily Jobe makes Pele the fire-breathing unicorn shoot fire from his mouth during the Mini Maker Faire at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock. More photos are available at www.arkansasonline.com/512maker/ - Photo by Thomas Metthe

A fire-breathing unicorn, a bicycle-riding giraffe named Norbert, and a Doctor Who nemesis invaded downtown North Little Rock on Saturday as artists and crafters displayed their wares at the fifth annual North Little Rock Mini Maker Faire.

The event -- equal parts block party, festival and technology expo -- was designed to exhibit the best of Arkansas inventors and creators while allowing families to step out of the rain for a moment and learn about the tinkering arts, Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub executive director Christopher Jones said.

Past a towering theropod -- a bipedal dinosaur -- flowed a stream of parents, children, eager teenagers and others who filled four nearby Verizon Arena parking lots, as well as street parking spaces for blocks around the Innovation Hub.

"My son did the Mini Maker Faire last year," said Shuronda Benningfield, whose elementary-student son, La-Ron, played a game of chess with rooks and knights that were almost his height. "I always put him in programs like these so he's always meeting new people. There's just a lot of stuff you don't even realize is out here."

In a corner of the building's upper level, overlooking the event's main room, Mario Settles was readying to kick off the Innovation Hub's new radio station, The Innovation Station. Settles said Saturday was the "perfect time" to start broadcasting.

A disc jockey named Nick Hud and emcees Dustye Helms and Lydia Jackson will preside over the airwaves at 104.3 FM, Settles said.

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The station will host local artists and maybe feature North Little Rock residents who are interested in creating podcasts or broadcasting existing podcasts on a wider level, Settles said.

From time to time Saturday, a 4-foot-tall giraffe would pedal through the building on a red tricycle, piloted by its creator Jason Quail.

Norbert the giraffe is one of Quail's many robots, which the Bentonville creator makes for fun. Rufas the dodo bird rides a skateboard; Eugene and Leslie -- two dashing pink flamingos in 19th century garb -- drive a horseless carriage and take photos.

Two nameless succulents roved around, guided by small, light-seeking sensors attached to their trundles.

Quail doesn't sell his robots. He said he instead enjoys being able to teach and draw people in with the happy-natured technology.

Gallery: Mini Maker Faire

"I just love sharing cool things," he said, smiling.

When Saturday's chilly drizzle let up for a few minutes, the North Little Rock High School robotics team showed off its award-winning Megashnook, a wheeled robot that moved back and forth through the barricaded street and threw a yellow ball in the air.

The team built Megashnook for a robotics competition, and handed out controllers to children and adults Saturday to let them pilot the machine.

"It was a lot of trial and error," said Layne Boyce, who along with Tanner Wenger and several other students built Megashnook.

"And a lot of redesign," Wenger added.

Back inside was a large gray mound of expanded foam molded to look like a pile of rocks. On the pile's surface sat a replica of the mythical hammer Mjolnir. In Norse mythology, Thor, the god of thunder, wields the hammer.

The Marvel Comics version of Thor also wields Mjolnir. But that version, popularized in a string of blockbuster movies over the past decade, adds a twist to the myth: Only those who are worthy of the god of thunder's power can lift the weapon.

The line to see and hoist Mjolnir was long throughout the day Saturday.

When Adam Kittrell or Nick Jones -- two of the people who helped make the hammer for the Mini Maker Faire -- turned on a magnet in the base of the pile of rocks, Thor's hammer became heavy and hard to lift.

Children and tall, brawny men approached the hammer Saturday afternoon to test their worthiness and, after tugging for a few moments, the hammer would yield and rise each time.

Kittrell said he and Jones worked on the hammer for about four days, crafting the wood-and-metal handle with a leather strap, laser-engraving Norse symbols on its sides and welding the shape into place.

The hammer, he said, is an amalgam of many trades practiced at the Innovation Hub, with almost every sector of the nonprofit represented in Mjolnir's making.

"This is why I love [the Mini Maker Faire]," volunteer J.T. Burson said, standing next to Mjolnir and a 5-foot model of a Dalek, a robot villain from the BBC series Doctor Who. "It gives you an idea of what's going on here every day."

Photo by Thomas Metthe
La-Ron Benningfield and his mother, Shuronda Benningfi eld, race slot cars against each other Saturday during the Mini Maker Faire in North Little Rock. More photos are available at www.arkansasonline.com/512maker/

Metro on 05/12/2019

Print Headline: Mini Maker Faire in North Little Rock spotlights engineers, crafters

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