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Where art takes shape

Curious Forge allows many to create together

  Karen Newell Young

Nevada City Advocate

It’s like a giant toy store for adults. It’s also a warehouse-sized space where artists and other creators learn new skills and collaborate with instructors and volunteers to expand their skills.

The Curious Forge, a “makers space” on the former Grass Valley Group headquarters, is about having fun and creating art and technology in a shared space. Everywhere are “toys” that can be used to create individual projects or group collaborations with the equipment on site. Sprinkled through the building are dolls, signs, furniture, fabrics and bits of whimsy that crafters can weave into their arts.

Creative and curious local residents are helping to lead the way in the “Maker Movement,” which encompasses dozens of projects, spaces and festivals throughout the country where artisans use shared infrastructure to make their art.

A Makers Space is a place where people with similar interests gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment and knowledge. In Nevada County, the lone organization in this growing national movement is Curious Forge, where nearly 150 members and about 30 volunteers join forces to offer workspaces, teachers and a vast collection of tools and supplies.

Among the many project areas are a jewelry lab, a fiber arts space, metal fabrication, ceramics, woodcarving and product design. Equipment available includes a laser cutter, routers, 3D printers, and assorted jewelry and fiber arts machines and tools.

The fiber arts space, which started in February, includes looms, spinning wheels, dyeing equipment, sewing machines, knitting needles and fabrics

In 2011, co-founder Liam Ellerby, inspired by the large creations he saw at Burning Man and San Mateo’s annual Maker Faire, came home to Nevada County and decided it needed a makers space of its own. In the Bay Area, the Maker Faire has been drawing inventors, craft makers and engineers for more than a decade.

He worked with his co-founder Kara Asilanis to create what has emerged as a growing membership and volunteer base, originally from Ellerby’s garage to the now 20,000-square-foot property off Bitney Springs in Grass Valley.

“It’s kind of like a heatlh club, only instead of exercise equipment, we have equipment and supplies for making,” said Asilanis. “Sometimes people are stuck not following their dreams because they can’t get the space or the equipment.” 

She adds, “There’s nothing like it around here, where the schools no longer offer art or shop classes.”

Part of the appeal of “The Forge,” as it’s called, is the sharing of ideas among users. “There are not many places where folks can share equipment or training, so makers enjoy the social aspect of creating and sharing ideas.” For many, it’s an opportunity to meet new people who share the same interests.

Karen Olson Ramsey, a jeweler who created the jewelry lab at Curious Forge five years ago, teaches classes on Tuesday night. The participants are of all ages, she said, and create a wide variety of jewelry. 

She said the social aspect of creating things together has a lot of appeal. “People know there are several other people they can interact with,” she said. “They share ideas and there’s a lot of collaboration. Sometimes they just to come in to get a taste of what we are about before joining.

This summer Curious Forge has collaborated with the Center for the Arts to offer a summer camp for kids and works with nonprofits on projects such as Hospitality House’s Empty bowl fundraisers. It offers a variety of workshops and social activities for its members. Membership includes several levels and benefits. For more information on Curious Forge, visit thecuriousforge.org.

Inside the 20,000 foot building are artists’ stations where members can create objects with tools and the infrastructure at the Curious Forge
on Birney Springs in Grass Valley.

photo by Karen Newell Young

Artisans create dolls and clothing for figures scattered throughout Curious Forge.

photo by Karen Newell Young