Becoming ‘The Girl Who Can Build Anything’

Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

Somerville resident and local artist Sarah Miller had her “a-ha” moment about what she wanted to do with her life when she was taking architecture classes at California Polytechnic State University Pomona. Call it youthful naivety, but at the age of 20 she had a sense that what she was learning in her classes didn’t necessarily reflect an architect’s career. 

She says she confirmed her suspicions while visiting the local architects association, where professionals told her that the first 10 years of a career in architecture would mean less designing and more drafting of plans. 

After a lunch with a few of the architects she met at the association, she discovered the field of industrial design, which combines engineering and art to create product designs product. It felt like she found her calling. 

And now, at Artisan’s Asylum—a land of raw materials with every resource at her disposal and a community that encourages its makers to fail and keep trying—she has been “home” for five years. She says that at the makerspace, there is always a “shortage of time, but certainly not a shortage of materials to work with.”

According to Miller, the different shops at Artisan’s Asylum give her unique access to materials and machines that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars anywhere else, allowing her to explore new mediums she is unfamiliar with. This is what’s earned her the reputation as “the girl who can build anything.”

At any given moment, her work station may be covered in bundles of fabric, strips of wood, metal hoops, and laser cut plastics. Yet, what may appear as chaos to many others actually makes perfect sense to her, she says. If you are going to “create something out of nothing,” it has to have two key factors: functionality and aesthetic appeal.

“There is beauty in chaos,” she says. 

One of Miller’s rules is that she never creates the same thing twice. In the past, she’s worked on projects as large as designing boat and electric car interiors, but she says she is also happy creating something small and sentimental—whether it’s for a friend, family member, or complete stranger. As she puts it, her projects range from creations for “people who have limited resources and a big dream, to those who have a ton of resources and limited ideas in the way of design.” 

When she’s not being spotted at the Artisan’s Asylum—identifiable by her purple eyeshadow, knit beanie, and denim jumpsuit—Miller also dabbles in music. She has provided backup vocals for over 30 albums, and says singing gives her an emotional outlet. 

It’s Miller’s continuous curiosity and proactive attitude that have brought her success as a  maker. Upon clicking the “future products” tab on Miller’s website, one is met with a scatter graph that ranks projects based on affordability and feasibility.

So, what’s on the horizon for Miller? It depends. On her to-make list, you’ll find an all-in-one diaper, 5-in-1 glasses, an auto wallpaper print service, an invisible toddler fence, a make-up printer, and a sonic wave umbrella. If you can think of it, Sarah Miller has probably already considered making it. And if her past is any indication of her future, she’ll probably have it out in the world sooner than you could possibly imagine. 

To learn more about Sarah Miller and her work, visit her website www.wheredidyougetthatidea.com or on her Instagram at @sarahmillerworkstuff.

This story appears in the March/April print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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