'Makers' crafting a new chapter at Westport Library

More than a century after the Wright brothers launched the first aircraft flights from Kitty Hawk, N.C., an unlikely Westport institution has emerged as a hub of local aerospace innovation: the Westport Public Library.

Aided by several young Westport "makers," local builder and designer Joseph Schott is overseeing construction of two wooden model Gee Bee No. 11 planes that will hang from the ceiling of the library's Great Hall by the end of the summer.

"We're going to show these guys skills they're always going to have," Schott said, while he guided Bedford Middle School seventh-graders Sam Greenberg and David Hoffman in cutting out a cardboard mock-up of an airplane's fuselage. The cardboard model is precursor to making the larger wooden versions.

Airplane building is the first project launched in the library's new "Maker Space," a venue for innovative ventures that library officials have described as emblematic of a new emphasis on patrons' "participatory" use of the library's space. Schott, a local builder and designer, will serve this summer as the Maker Space's first maker-in-residence. The library has invited local students and other library visitors to help Schott assemble the aircraft.

"This community has always been ahead of the curve," Maxine Bleiweis, the library's director, said Monday during a press conference in the library's Great Hall. "Libraries have always adapted to what their communities need in order to serve them."

The impetus for the Maker Space originated from the Mini Maker Faire, an exposition in April at the library that featured works by dozens of local inventors and attracted more than 2,200 visitors. In response to the Maker Faire's popularity and the growing popularity of the Maker movement throughout the country, library leaders envision the Maker Space as a permanent incubator for innovation and entrepreneurial initiative.

"The garage inventor, the person who tinkers with technology -- that is the essence of the Maker movement," said Bill Derry, the library's assistant director for innovation and user experience. "Around it are the arts and crafts and making things, because in the maker movement, every single person is a maker."

With the Maker Space as a focal point, the library is planning to host a slate of building-focused programs and projects. On Aug. 1, local builder Mike Ogrinz will present his replica of the robot from the "Lost in Space" TV show.

Furnished with work tables, tools and blueprints on its walls, the Maker Space evokes the work shed in Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers toiled on their pioneering aviation projects. It also includes contemporary totems of innovation such as a 3-D printer, which creates objects from digital files. By late Monday morning, the printer had already produced a miniature airplane model.

Having already built a wooden boat and bird house, Greenberg said he was keen to join Schott in constructing the airplanes.

"Joe came into my mom's pre-school class, and they built an airplane," he said. "I thought it was cool, and I wanted to volunteer because I heard they needed help."

Schott aims to complete the two planes by Aug. 25. With wingspans extending 15 feet, the aircraft will be displayed from separate bays in the Great Hall. Framed by pylons at each end of the Great Hall, the Gee Bees' positioning in the library will create the impression of two racing planes, Schott said.

"One of the things that happens when you do this sort of project is you're confronted with different problems," Schott added. "The reason the Wright brothers are so important is because they had a really great project method. They tried to solve all the problems in front of them that needed to be solved to make an airplane."

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott