Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
I travel to Hertel Ave to meet Gretchen Meyers, the mastermind behind Buffalo, NY's DIY workshop, Makers Buffalo. The shop, formerly set in the back of Modern Nostaligia, is transitioning back to its gypsy roots: traveling as pop-up workshops and providing team-building activities for groups as opposed to offering a revolving weekly schedule. When I arrive, Gretchen is setting up a spiked quartz necklace-making class.
Gretchen started Makers a little over 2.5 years ago when she saw the void in the market. Paint nights were trending themselves out because they only offered one craft, and she herself wanted a place she could go to learn how to make practical, enjoyable crafts. Gretchen thought this idea could be blown a bit further. As a long-time jewelry maker and owner/designer at Peg’s Hardware (an element-based handmade jewelry shop also in Buffalo), she began offering pop-up jewelry classes and “quick and dirty” DIYs to the public.
Gretchen is a 100% self-taught jewelry maker and business owner, and admits she’s “still constantly learning what works, and what doesn’t.” After receiving her BA in Organizational Communications and working as an event planner for Make-a-Wish and Hospice, Gretchen decided to try her hand at Graphic Design. She had learned enough through her nonprofit work, and at 27 moved to Chicago to receive a postgraduate degree. She then moved back to Buffalo to work for an advertising agency, but found it wasn’t everything she’d hoped for. She tells me, “I didn’t care if a giant company that was already making a ton of money made more money. Working in the nonprofit sector was tough, but the mission made you keep going; it fed your soul.” This realization would shape much of her career to follow.
After selling some of her first jewelry from a homemade display at the Buffalo boutique Half & Half, Gretchen knew she had found her passion. She tells me, “I wasn’t aiding palliative care like I was at Hospice, or making wishes come true like I was at Make-a-Wish, but I was still creating joy for people through these pieces. I still have people coming up to me that have had my work for five years and tell me it’s been a good luck charm for them. That’s what feeds me.” So, Gretchen left her job at the agency and opened Peg’s-- and eventually, Makers.
Since the birth of Makers Buffalo, more maker-type places have crept up, so Gretchen is staying one step ahead of the game. She aims to focus more on company retreats and team-building events with corporations after working successfully with companies like dig Buffalo (The Innovation Center). In addition to focusing on individual events, Gretchen hopes to get back to her nonprofit roots by partnering with more educational organizations. Gretchen was asked by MUSEjar in East Aurora to partner up on a few kids camps this summer, along with other classes they collaborate on. She says, “We want to expose kids to art and offer them an outlet. I know as a kid, doing anything with my hands was my medium, and we want to offer that opportunity for those who feel the same way.”
Gretchen teaches about 12-15 of Makers classes herself, and invites outside instructors to teach their respective trades. She admits, “Being in Buffalo is tough. You see what’s on trend or what might be on trend, and Buffalo is a beat behind.” But she’s successfully brought trends from Pinterest, DIY blogs and Instagram to the classroom. “I fall asleep searching for activities,” she laughs. Gretchen tells me she aims to offer classes that have a level of beginner-friendliness that people won’t get frustrated with while they have fun with their friends and have a glass of wine, but is not going to end up in the garbage. She explains, “A good craft is on trend, it’s nice, it’s something that people won’t struggle with, and it’s useful."
So how can we bridge the gap between Rochester and Buffalo? With craft! After years of dreaming of working together, Rochester Brainery and Makers Buffalo have made it happen. "What A Crafty Weekend!" will take place on March 25th and 26th and will feature classes taught by Gretchen and Makers resident Laura Cott, artist and owner of LaCott Fine Art (Buffalo, NY). Gretchen has one real hope for the weekend: “I hope people can walk away with the knowledge that they don’t need to be a master craftsman to make something beautiful for themselves or their home.” I think this can be easily achieved.
Interested in learning more? Tickets are still available for purchase for "What A Crafty Weekend!" here.