09 September 2012

The Last Apple: In Memory of Gaffer Applewright

When I first started faire, the first thing I read wasn't a history or costuming book. It was a 'Meet & Greet' primer written by someone who called himself Gaffer Applewright.

He had six basic premises that have been my guiding light in the years since:
1. Notice the Patrons.
2. Be Helpful.
3. Be Friendly.
4. Be Your Character.
5. Speak the Speech.
6. The attitude sells it.

It would be six years before I had a chance to meet the man and let him know how much he'd helped me without ever meeting me. He was kind and humble, and told me that if I had found something in his words, then it was in me to begin with.

A more generous actor I cannot imagine working with.

Roger Russell, known far and wide as Gaffer Applewright, died this weekend.  I only knew him through the faire. His trademark 'apple trick' (a story he tells as he cuts an apple in a way that makes it come apart like a puzzle) was the perfect, irresistible bit to break down the barrier between the actor and the patron. Like many others, I have long sought to emulate the effortless way that he interacted, the completeness of his characterization.

He was everything I expected from reading his meet & greet paper, a fascinating man with a wise and gimlet eye, a quick wit and a penetrating mind. So it was that I felt greatly honored and somewhat taken aback when one of my companions pointed to him the day I met him and said "that's going to be you in thirty-odd years!"

I can only hope so.

After his speech we had some time to discuss the politics and oddities of renaissance culture, from the search for a cure for scurvy to the nuance of Elizabeth's reign. It was the pinnacle of my time at faire that year and one of the great highlights of my years of doing this thing we call ren faire.

Rest in peace, Gaffer. You will be missed.

07 September 2012

From Mayor to Artisan: Costuming the Working Man

As you know, my recent efforts in the realm of costuming has been on the side of the upper middle class and lower noble caste.  But now that I've spent the summer shaking babies and kissing hands, it is time to launch my new project: The School of the Renaissance Artisan and that means new clothes.

Like a renaissance Springsteen, I return to my blue collar roots.

I really should stop saying things like that. No one can live up to expectations like that. Nevertheless, baby I was born to run...


To be completely honest: For this project I won't be wearing a costume the whole time. Only when I think it will change the outcome, or if images need to be made of the process or when it won't unnecessarily impede my progress through a public space.

There's a lot of research to be done; there's no reason to wear galligaskins to the library.

This woodcut is the inspiration for the workingman's outfit I am about to make.

An English chap of the mid 1560's stands against a tree, a working stiff of some sort, tools arrayed in a pile at his feet. I've heard him called a surveyor because of the dividers in the foreground, but  I'm not so sure. There's also a pick axe, handsaw, and claw hammer. Not to mention the apron the man's wearing, which makes more sense for a carpenter or something than for a surveyor.

I like the elegant simplicity of it. I read this as galligaskins (probably of wool), plus a doublet and jerkin. Worn with a vestigial ruff at the collar, probably attached to the shirt collar. Made in appropriate fabrics and with the correct accouterments, it should pass unnoticed in any tavern, field, or guildhall of the 16th century.

It's perfect for my needs.

The first version I plan to make will be grey wool bottoms and white fustian or wool top. A simple color scheme that works well and adheres well to what we know from the research being done into English wills of the period by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies. According to their research into the wills of the county Essex, 40% of doublets mentioned were leather,  24% linen canvas, and 21% fustian. I might make another leather doublet at some point but at the moment, I'm a bit leathered out. So fustian it is!

Clockwise from the upper left, in our fabric stash I found a nice grey wool, a heavy unbleached fustian canvas, a lighter white fustian, and a pale green linen tablecloth to use as a lining.

Yes, a table cloth. Why not?  It will make a nice lining for the Gascon hose.

More tomorrow.

06 September 2012

The School of the Renaissance Artisan

Welcome! It's high time I clued you folks in on where I've been and what I have been up to during my recent silence.  

You might have noticed a new tab appear at the top of the blog that says 'Schole of the Renaissance Artisan'. This is a new project that I've undertaken to 

You can read the full story here.

The gist is this: I want to look in-depth at what it really mean to be an actual 'renaissance man'. Not a Davinci or a Michelangelo, but a 'Bill, the man who fixes the roof when it rains' or a 'Jack, the guy that bakes the bread at the market'. Because I think we forget that the renaissance wasn't just artists and soldiers and kings and popes, but a groundswell of normal, ordinary people advancing their lot generation by generation, building themselves up through the sweat of their own brows and the callouses of their own hands and, for better or worse, creating the modern world.

For one year (January - December 2013), I'm going to delve into each of the 54 livery companies that had royal charters in 16th century England.  

This will be a multi-media enterprise, including a YouTube channel called The Rest of the Renaissance and possibly tapping into other venues for sharing information as well with the hope of eventually turning it all into a book. Possibly even a hypertext eBook with embedded links to the videos and other interactive materials.

I'm planning to bring you along as I learn some new skills and hopefully we're all going to learn something. As I go I will share with you the resources I'm using, building a sort of virtual library of 16th century source material and related sundry for anyone else who wants to acquire these skills. 

If nothing else, I invite you to watch me fail in a spectacular and possibly amusing manner.
A few of these projects will overlap or build one upon the other. Some I already know how to do. Some might be a bit hard to manage. There’s a grocer’s guild; not sure how that’s going to work. And a goldsmith’s company, a voice that sounds suspiciously like my wife’s whispers in my head.  Have you seen the price of gold lately?

I’ll figure it out. I know people. And those people know people. People with skills that deserve to be appreciated and trumpeted.  People keeping alive crafts and skills that would die out completely were it not for them. And if by failing miserably at my attempts to learn these crafts brings attention to their superior craftsmanship, so much the better.

So I invite you to please join me here as I take you with me back to school in a possibly impossible attempt to become a renaissance man. 

Between now and the new year, Garb for Guys, along with the new blog I set up for the project
http://renaissanceartisan.blogspot.com/ will track my preparations, including the costuming. Then, on January 2nd (give me a day to sleep in from New Year's Eve, won't you?) the bell will ring and school will be in session.

Join me, won't you?