It's that time of year again! Yes we will be at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair this year in our booth selling items and chatting about medieval weapons with anyone that will listen. Fair time is our busiest time of the year and this year especially as we are on a major push to catch up on our order queue. The stock is often being done just a few days before the weekend so we will do our best to have some interesting things to check out, but we maybe a bit sparse this year.
History of A&A at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair
Our longest relationship with the public has been at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. We have been involved in many aspects of the show from Jousting, Combat Chess, Street Fights, Blacksmithing and Combat Demonstrations and of course selling sharp things to great people!
We first did the "show" as its known in the shop in 1981. Chris was one of the jousters and he opened a shop to sell the armor and weapons he was making between jousts.
Our first professional experiences with the faire was in connection with the joust. Chris would participate in the joust at Minnesota, Florida, Souther California, New York and Dallas and Houston in Texas. In 1986 and 87 we we took to the saddle and presented three runnings of the list a day at the Minnesota Renaissance Faire as part of Arms & Armor. Daily combat as well as making items and selling them was all part of our gig.
Over the years participating in the joust informed our study of weapons and armor. It quickly became apparent how the originals were very well designed and needed many of their design features to be practical. If the equipment was not designed well it made a dangerous activity even more so. This lead us to study the weapons and armor as practical tools not only as objects of history and beauty. It sparked our desire to learn not only how they made the pieces but how they were used and thought of in the past.
Evolution of our Booth
The first incarnation of our venue, the booth, at show was a square building set off on one side of the festival grounds that used to be inside a race track that had been there in the early days.
Over the years our booth has had a few alterations and adjustments. We built the initial structure back in 1981. It had a slightly arched roof covered in straw. Over the years we have added and remodeled elements from time to time.
We added a peaked roof about 1986? and have even had portions of it tossed into the parking lot by a massive storm. we have continued to adjust and remodel to fit the needs to display more items and enhance demos for the public but at its core it's still our original renaissance workshop.
Stage and Historical Combat
Our research into how swords were used as well as constructed meant we spent many hours with sword in hand practicing several different types of combat. We did daily combat demonstrations at the booth from Armored Combat to Smallsword fights and everything in between. An outgrowth of this was being part of Engarde Unlimited, a group formed by participants at the Minnesota show to perform stage combat in a historical style. It would develop into a full fledged school of stage combat associated with the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD).
Engarde Unlimited! performed the Combat Chess match and street fights at MRF for many years. We not only performed as part of this group but made many of the pieces they used for their performances.
Smithing & Combat Demos
We have been doing forge demonstrations at our booth from the beginning. We have rebuilt our forge in several different varieties over the years and probably have had three or four bellows wear out over time due to use and the elements.
May we help you?
Through all of this our main goal was to provide great weapons to great people. We have had many folks helping us over the years working the counter and helping with the demos and we have become a family of sorts. Here is a look at some of the folks who have contributed in major ways to us being able to make fair fun for our customers.
Most asked question
Many times folks ask what sells the best at shows? It's tough to answer as we see these trends ebb and flow and we have never been able to nail down why one year war hammers are the thing and next year it's spears.
So we look forward to seeing you there and we hope your journey is safe.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.