Friday, August 7, 2009

7. the Renaissance Festival

I notice it’s been months since I did an installment on becoming a glass artist.  Likely most my readers now haven’t read any of them so you can catch up here (but you’ll have to read from the bottom up).  The entries are all fairly short.  I’ve been looking for a photo that I know we have, have seen it floating around for years, to illustrate this next installment (originally divided into two), but what with the move and all, I can’t find it anywhere, so I give up.

 In 1976, we started doing the Renaissance Festival, six weekends in a row.  We did this Festival for seven years and it pulled our butts out of the fire more than once.  The way we got into the Renaissance Festival is that a friend of my parents had the drink concession there and he got us in, a really good spot too, number three on the right as you came in.  As a participant, you had to build your own little ‘store’ or booth.    

That first year (the second year for the Fair), it was crude.  We built a little corral out of reed fencing and had a table.  We strung wire across and hung small framed etched glass panels suitable for hanging in your window like a sun catcher.  We met the guy next to us, Wylie Ponder, a very talented fellow Texan who did watercolors and with whom we are still friends.  They had a glass blower there, blowing really crude stuff from cullet he got somewhere.  And they also had demonstrations from the Society for Creative Anachronism.  Let me tell you, those guys were serious about their game.  Didn’t take too well to jokes.  The whole fair itself, in the piney woods,  started out small and crude and it rains a lot in October and so by the end of the 6 weeks it was pretty much a mud hole.  We had to be in costume too.  I hadn’t given up sewing yet so I made ours.  (man, I wish I could find that picture)

It was fun the first few years.  The guy in charge, King George he called himself, strove to make it bigger, better and more authentic every year.  You had to improve your booth every year and people started building actual little houses and store fronts and if you wanted to keep your primo location and not get banished into the back half, it had to look really good, like the wealthy part of town.  We skated by our second year with a barely improved corral and our third year we got our friend Gene of the stained glass to do it with us and the real building started.  Over the years, Marc and Gene built a two story three sided building that we lived in during the weekends.  It had stained glass and etched glass windows.

Doing the Fair started to become a hardship during the last couple of years.  Our commission work was growing and it was taking us away from what we really needed to be doing and besides, it had quadrupled in size and King George was imposing more and more rules and restrictions.  That last year we did the Fair, 1982, he decreed that next year everyone had to talk in that stupid fake cockney olde english accent or suffer banishment.  That was it for us.  We sold our little structure for $6000 to the next sucker.


  1. hello ellen, what a great story. i visit outdoor art and craft shows every so often and it's all too easy to overlook the tremendous amount of preparation that goes into the booth and display, let alone the artwork itself! i've come across the before. they are an interesting group of people. a shame it had to become so unpleasant for you but i always take my cue from things like that. whatever reason is shoving me out of something is likely connected to something i need to be connected with. i'm going to need to wander through your blog and look at the glass entries. i love glasswork. have a peaceful day. steven

  2. As much as I enjoy going to the Renaissance Festival every couple of years, I'm sure it's a royal pain in the ass to have to work there year after year... especially having to do everything King George tells you. I'm sure that gave you a taste of what REALLY went on in those days. (I just did a post about my most recent trip to the Renaissance Festival, but I think I had more fun since I didn't actually have to bow to my liege lord's demands.)

  3. I've heard of those but have never gone to one.

  4. We have one near us in Ohio & we've attended a few times. My favorite things were the Theatre in the Mud & the professional insulter - oh, & shopping of course!

  5. I have fond memories of wandering around the fair and remember the house dad build but mostly I remeber the rooster who would wake us all up early in the morning.

  6. Great story, as always, so well told.

    I can't believe it, but I've never been to the Renaissance Fair. I'm guessing I would have preferred the earlier rendition.

    I hope you find the picture!

  7. My children loved every minute they spent there. Until you explained the limits and conditions put on the artisans, I never knew how difficult it could be.

  8. I love this! The lifespan of the Ren Fest ... all of it seems just right.

    I read tarot at the Maryland Ren Fest for a few years with the same trajectory - fun at first and nice money, then more work, then when I finally got sick of the fake Brit accents, I got out (I was also then able to make enough $ from massage that I didn't have to wear the bizarre dress, etc.)

  9. Well, if you can't speak the king's proper english I say sod it. Obviously you did. Love the drawing of Marc and the TV, it's a classic. I need to get a pic of cat and PT snoozing in front of the TV with the cat on his chest.

    Great flower and kid pics. I got a new fig tree and pomegranate bush this year which was challenging due to the really hot weather. So far I haven't killed them and cooler weather has arrived.

    I went to see Julia and Julia which is an amazing movie and shows the struggles artists go through in this case the culinary arts and publishing a book but it was wonderful. I picked up my new glasses before going to the show and what a difference a new prescription makes, it's a whole new world.



  10. I have never been to one. Although King George sounds like a pain in the arse. Great story Ellen.

  11. HI Ellen -

    I went to my first last fall and loved it, though like lakeviewer, I had no idea that the folks working there might NOT be into it. From everyone walking around in character, I assumed this drew to it the folks who would have loved to live back in those times, hence it was a real treat for them to dress and speak that way all day.Though the mideveal times have been my least favorite in history, before the day was through I was all into fairies and grog mugs and the like... shows me how adaptable a sop I can be. It was culture shock to then go to the gas pump and not have the guy in the mini mart call me m'lady! lol

    Thanks for the behind the scenes look.

  12. There's a point where a RenFest can get too slick and polished. The KC RenFest lost its charm for me when it allowed a vendor to sell modern patio furniture and Red Flyer wagons (with rubber tires, no less!). I used to attend every weekend, but haven't been back since.

  13. Hi. I found your blog as I was searching for Wylie Ponder. We carried his art glass in our gallery many years ago. Would like to contact him about his work, but the contact information I have is out of date. Noticed you mentioned you are still friends. Are you still in touch with him?


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