The Kitsap Medieval Faire, and the people behind it, are gearing up for the 35th year. The faire is presented by the Kingdom of An Tir, part of the global nonprofit, the Society for Creative Anachronism. This story is the second in a series about the Kingdom of An Tir.
BREMERTON — When it comes to the Society for Creative Anachronism, one of the flashiest parts that always draws attention quickly is the fighting.
Swords, staffs, bows and arrows, rapiers and more are wielded by SCA members decked out in awe-inspiring garb, with hand-made armor and shields bearing personal crests.
“Where do you think all that armor comes from?,” said Countess Elisabeth de Rossignol, former queen of the Kingdom of An Tir in Kitsap County and current convener of the arts and sciences aspect of the kingdom.
“You see the clothing that people are wearing. Where does that come from? We have to make it ourselves.”
Her own persona as Elisabeth de Rossignol is that of a woman from the mid 16th century who lives in Flanders in the low countries in what the modern world calls Belgium. Elisabeth is skilled in things like spinning, weaving, dying … all sorts of fiber arts. She even raises sheep for wool, as well as goats whose milk she churns into butter.
She said of the people in the SCA, “We’re all people who are historical buffs … There’s practically no aspect of medieval life that somebody isn’t interested in and hasn’t tried their hands at.
The fiber arts tends to be a really popular draw in the SCA.
“Making armor is very popular,” Elisabeth said. “If you’re interested in fighting, you’re not just going to find the armor lying around somewhere, you have to make it. Embroidery is very popular. Just about any kind of textile work. We’ve got some extraordinarily good spinners and weavers in our group here, particularly.”
As SCA members, everyone attempts period accuracy — though that period tends to fall anywhere from 600 B.C. to the 1600s A.D. And there’s a larger variety of arts and sciences than many would think.
By hand, people carve leather, melt silver and work it into jewelry, make musical instruments and learn to play and sing period songs, and more.
Arion the Wanderer is a moneyer for the Kingdom of An Tir. That means he hand carves coin dyes and hammers coins, either by hand or with a drop hammer for the thicker coins.
“We’re not only making cool coins, but we’re doing it the way they did it back then,” Arion said. “What we want to do is do it the way they did it, without all the modern tools and conveniences.”
There is a moneyer guild, and the members are tasked with not only making coins for the kings and queens (who change every six months) but also to do custom work for people.
“For each person, I give them the option … ‘Do you want a coin that matches your persona and time frame? Do you want your coat of arms on your coin? Do you want pure fantasy?’ Most people want something pretty accurate to their period.”
Then he researches the time period and culture, designs a coin design that would fit into that, hand carves it (a process that can range from a few hours for simple designs to 20 hours or even longer for the more complicated designs) and then hammers it, usually into a pewter coin, though sometimes people will provide silver or even gold to use.
“I enjoy the art,” he said. “I enjoy the whole process. And I like striking coins with a six-pound hammer because it’s good exercise.”
David Meyers, known around the kingdom as Thangrandr, is a smith and jeweler. He does blacksmithing, blade smithing, silversmithing and more.
“It’s fun,” Meyers said. “It’s meditative work.”
Meyers started with the SCA when he was 13, and actively participated for more than a decade before taking a couple decades off. He rejoined in 2009, with a fine arts degree in gold and silver smithing. He said what drew him to his art was his fascination with metal work, like chain mail.
“We can take something unyielding like steel … and change its shape,” Meyers said. “That’s a lure to me. My wife said I’m a ‘process guy.’ I like process — [making jewelry] and blacksmithing and blade smithing. I like cooking, too. I like trying to do things other people can’t do.”
All of these crafts and so many more will be featured at the Kitsap Medieval Faire June 3. The public will get to see live demonstrations of coin striking, cooking with fire, spinning wool, carving wood, and music and dancing, done the way they did in the distant past.
“It seems like everything we do surprises people,” Elisabeth said. “Usually, we’ve got people bug eyed by just about everything we do.
“It just seems like so many things that are just very normal life things (amazes people). When you’ve been doing it for a while, it doesn’t surprise you, but a lot of folks have no idea. I remember one year I was out there with the spinning wheel, and people kept asking where I plug it in.”
Elisabeth said the modern world we live in is a consumer world. We’re used to going online and buying things ready-made and having it shipped to our door. Or driving our combustion-engine vehicles to the store and picking it up. Using electronics to organize our life. The SCA takes a different approach.
“It’s completely fascinating,” Elisabeth said. “If you are intrigued by the Middle Ages to start with — and we all are, or we wouldn’t be there — the idea of being able to see some of these marvelous things … and being able to say, I could do that, and giving it a try and learning how to do it, is incredibly exciting and very rewarding and very fun.”
Part of the draw, Elisabeth said, is simply learning how to do things in the traditional, period-appropriate way. And what better way to learn how to do something than by doing it?
“Also, in some cases, some of the things we do, very few people in the world still know how to do at all,” Elisabeth said. “How many people do you know who can create a book, starting with homemade ink and quill? These are, in many cases, a lot of the skills we do are dying or very hard to learn. I had to teach myself lace making from a book. We keep a lot of things alive.”
Learning to do things? Everyone starts from scratch at some point.
“None of us are professional — or very few of us are professional — artisans,” Elisabeth said. “We’re people who are interested in something and have taken the trouble in learning how to do it. Some of us are very good. Some of us are just getting started.”
Elisabeth said that after the Medieval Faire in June, the Kingdom of An Tir will host classes (the schedule of which will be available at the Medieval Faire) where the public can learn some of these crafts. Or, join the SCA, go to a weekly gathering, and start learning there. There are often classes, or other people working on things, where you can learn things like how to safely store food for camping, or how to make quills and write in historically accurate calligraphy, or do the illumination (the decorative artwork on pages) by hand and make your own ink.
“It’s very engaging,” Elisabeth said. “Keeps you alert, keeps you sharp. Most of us are pretty much what you’d classify as the ‘lifelong learner’ types. We’re always interested in learning something new. The best way to learn anything, I think, is to really do it yourself.”
Rhiannon of Eagle’s Flight, a baronial scribe, said that there’s “so many cool things to do … and not enough time to do them.”
Meyers said, “There’s a sport aspect to (the SCA). There’s rules and techniques. Organizing. Arts and sciences. There’s something for everybody to do.”