Peabody Essex Museum Invites Innovators to its Maker Lounge

  • SALEM, Massachusetts
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  • January 08, 2015

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Ryan White working with students from Salem’s Phoenix School at PEM.
Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) launches the first of a series of mini-residencies in the museum’s Maker Lounge -- a new space dedicated to cutting-edge innovation, creativity and Do-It-Yourself culture.

“The first step was opening the Maker Lounge in our East India Marine Hall -- the original building of the museum -- where 19th-century Salem sea captains housed the innovations they discovered on their voyages around the world,” said Juliette Fritsch, PEM’s chief of education and interpretation. “In this space, the public can take part in the real-time creative process and problem-solving methods of makers. The maker community is part of a growing grassroots movement at the intersection of do-it-yourself and technology, and at its core is a commitment to sharing ideas and testing things out.”

The first Maker-in-Residence at PEM, product designer and Salem resident Ryan White, is in the midst of a six-week project focusing on wearable technology. White has transformed the Maker Lounge into a “Design Process” laboratory to research and generate new ideas for wearable technology. Existing wearables include things like the popular bracelets that measure your daily steps, clothes that change color depending on your mood and shoes that vibrate to tell you whether to turn left or right. Maker Lounge visitors are invited to share their ideas about wearables and participate in the design process to see if their ideas could progress to a viable product.

“Working here seemed like a breath of fresh air after being in boardrooms for hours,” said White, a native of the North Shore who grew up visiting PEM and recently returned to the area after several years in California’s tech sector. “The kids who come into the Maker Lounge are just so honest. Anything goes. Let’s create hover shoes. Why not?”

As part of his residency, White has been working with a group of students from Salem’s Phoenix School. He began by showing them images of examples of wearable technology -- baby monitors, Google Glass, Fitbits, contact lenses that measure insulin levels, bike helmets that have light-up turn signals and smart watches. On the walls, he wrote the problem-solving process for design: IDEATE, PROTOTYPE, TEST. The students began by coming up with ideas like a toothbrush belt, a ring with GPS capabilities and windshield-washer glasses. Some ideas were then chosen for development, sketched and prototyped using the Maker Lounge’s 3-D printer. White then proceeded to work with the students on all aspects of how a product goes to consumers, from designing packaging to branding and marketing.

From a professional standpoint, White said he’s also been able to network while in the Maker Lounge, meeting potential design clients and other makers along the way.



Through the month of April, meet David Yann Robert, an artist featured in PEM’s Branching Out: Trees As Art exhibition. Robert’s residency will involve his background in recording the bioelectrical signals in trees. His 17-minute time-lapse video and sound piece called Bokträd (beech tree) is currently on view at PEM. For more on participating in PEM’s maker residency program, contact



Ryan White grew up on the North Shore and earned a degree in industrial design from Wentworth Institute of Technology. Most recently, he has been working on a wearables technology product launch for a New England–based startup. He has enjoyed success designing and developing products such as stomach staplers, laser welders, coffee makers, toothbrushes and toys. As the lead industrial designer for a technology products company in Palo Alto, Calif., White accumulated more than 40 patents and 24 industry awards. For Beyond Productions, producers of Discovery Channel's MythBusters, he consulted, developing concepts and storyboards, and acted as a build adviser for a new TV show.



PEM’s Maker Lounge taps into a subculture of those interested in engineering, innovation and new and creative applications of technologies. It is open to individual tinkering and hosts workshops for 3-D printing enthusiasts, those who appreciate craft and those who are part of the developing maker movement. In the Robinson Gallery, the oldest part of the museum, visitors can tackle a design challenge or work with all kinds of materials from circuits to cardboard saws. New programs are being developed for teens and adults including monthly 3-D printing workshops, demonstrations by visiting artists, scientists, engineers and other creatives -- including collaborators from MIT Media Lab. Both energizing and relaxing, the space includes ambient music, iPads and universal phone chargers. 

Tags: design

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