Monday, December 16, 2013

Candlelight Stroll 2013

Family Parlor in Goodwin Mansion
This past weekend was the second weekend of Strawbery Banke Museum’s Candlelight Stroll. This is the Big Event for me in my position of Manager of Special Events. The month leading up to this past weekend, and the last couple weeks in particular have been hellishly stressful, but the weekends went off beautifully. Yes, the first hour of the first Saturday was spent running around fixing all the things, and there was a bunch of stuff that I wanted to do that did not get done in time. But visitors seemed to have a good time, I got some compliments, and only the nit-pickers found anything to complain about.

So Candlelight Stroll is big.

Eight of the museum’s houses are set up how they would have looked in December, in eight different time periods. That means 8 different research bases, 8 different stories to tell, 8 different sets of costumes, music, food, everything. Oh, and eight different sets of decorations made from local botanicals in historically appropriate designs. Every house is full of light, and role players, and activity.

Then there are the demonstration and exhibit houses. During regular museum open hours there are demos of: Hearth cooking, weaving, pottery, coppering, and blacksmithing. This past weekend those were joined by: windsor chair making, tin smithing, and basket making. Then there was all the food: the museum has a new cafe, plus this year we served booze in the 1777 tavern, free hot cider and cookies, and museum members got their own food-filled reception.

Then there was all the live music. Local choruses singing carols, piano music in the Visitor Center, bands in the Cider Shed, Roving guitarists. And puppet shows, and wandering role-players, and a kid’s treasure hunt, and Saint Nick handing out candy, and horse-drawn carriage rides, and hands on crafts...

Yes, I am in charge of all of that.

I get a ton of help from the Horticulture Department, Curatorial, Education, Development, heck, every department. This is by no means a one-woman-show. But ultimately if it falls apart or succeeds I am the one responsible.

Making magic like this event, I absolutely love that. I love that visitors have a magical-non-commercial experience. I love creating safe, celebratory experiences that have a ton of really rich history thrown in.

But I really missed role playing. I was not in historical costume, I was not personally bringing the past to life. I got to hire a bunch of really talented people to do it, and that was definitely satisfying, but not the same.
Peek in the door to Rider-Wood
I’m looking forward to next weekend, when we get to do it all over again for the final time this year, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to dress up, even if it won’t be for a while. Read this entry on entry page

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Renaissance Toiletries

This fall I did not blog about the Connecticut Renaissance Faire because I was starting the new job, dealing with some health issues, and well, life. Now, most of the posts I was going to write have drifted from my brain but one that I still want to write about, even several months later, is my Renaissance toiletries kit. I love being well organized when I pack, and having to haul and hide a whole lot of modern stuff is a pain. So over the years I've been trying to add more of the daily items that I think it likely a noble traveler would need to carry, to replace my own toiletry items that I schlepp from event to event.

Wooden box containing my historical hair supplies

The first group of items that I did this with were my hair items. Instead of using modern hair goop, bobby pins, and elastics, I put together a kit that contains:
horn combs
thin twill tape and needles
herbal hair salve
a few brass pins
some bone bodkins
a lovely reproduction copper mirror
Open box of hair supplies.

The bone bodkin idea I got from Janet Stephens (Her youtube chanel is fantastic!) She uses them the same way we use modern hair clips, to hold sections of hair out of the way while working on other hair bits. Janet also talks about sewing hair into place instead of pinning it, and she is not the only one that I've seen doing this. I attended a wonderful workshop at Pennsic 39 all about hair wrapping that was so well researched and right on. Unfortunately all I have of that presentation is a paper handout, which is safely tucked on my shelf of paper copies and hand-outs. The mirror was a birthday gift from some fellow guild members, I think they ordered it from England, I'm not sure.

The last bit is the hair salve. My hair is totally shiny and frizzy and if I did not put something in it I would constantly look like I was touching one of those electric balls that makes your hair stand on end. In my every-day life I use a lot of coconut oil, or "hair moisturizer" products, and I could have put one of those in a little ceramic bottle, but I wanted something more historical. Most of the Renaissance hair recipes I found were for lightening the hair, or make it grow thicker, so in the end I made up my own recipe involving lanolin, almond oil, and some herbs that I knew were available in Renaissance Europe, meanwhile I'll keep looking.
Most of this fits into a nice little carved wooden box that I found at a Renaissance faire. Since two of us in the guild bought the same box I painted mine so we could tell them apart, and because we know that so many of the wooden pieces would have been painted, but have not survived in their painted state. I love my box of historical hair supplies! The only problem I've had with keeping it stocked is with the really thin twill tape. I tend to wear the hairdos home, then forget to put the tape back in my box and it gets lost somewhere along the way. Luckily twill tape is cheap and not too difficult to replace.
My small wooden chest, covered by a pillow sham case.

My "Bling" box.

The hair stuff box looks nice in my small wooden chest along with some reproduction letters, pouches of coins, playing cards, spare hosen, and what Stephen and I call our bling boxes: round wooden boxes that I painted blue on the outside and lined with black velvet where we keep our jewelry, big gold chains, massive rings, fancy paternosters, pomanders and other little tid-bits.

More on toiletries: A few years ago I picked up a pitcher and bowl, and made some quick little towels to go with them. We had a hand washing set-up just like all the paintings of the annunciation. Not long after I bought them we broke the big white bowl I got for hand-washing, but that was okay because I replaced both bowl and pitcher with a better looking set of ceramics with a lovely ochre glaze that I got at HomeGoods. This past year I found two little ceramic oil and vinegar pourers at Pier One, they are yellow glazed, so they clash pretty horribly with the hand washing set but I don't care. One pourer we've filled with dish detergent for the”kitchen”, the other I used for rose water (also found cheap at homegoods) for our hand washing.
Our hand washing station.

Stephen's straight razor, brush, and other odds & ends.

I'm slowly trying to increase my historical toiletries kit. I'm researching liquorice root as a form of toothbrush, I've made a sunburn salve for the end of each event day, I found a lovely kit on another reenactor's blog. She uses several Lush products, specifically their bar deodorant and dry toothpaste, I think both of those would be easy enough to "pass", even if they are not historical. If I forgot to put away my toiletries before we open up to the public (that has never happened before) I would feel totally fine if next to the water pitcher there was a creamy white soap-looking bar wrapped in oilcloth, when the reality is I forgot to put my deodorant away. For our usual shower soap we use Dr. Bronner's Liquid soap, and that is easy enough to put in a little ceramic jar. Some of my jars I got from potters who supply for local reenactors, others I got from the Plimoth Plantation potters. They were labeled ink wells, but I think they are perfect for more apothecary type uses.

Stephen already shaves with a straight razor, and is collecting his historical shaving gear to go in his little wooden chest with his bling box, extra shoes, gloves, all those little things. This year I want to make some better towels for hand washing, hopefully out of linen, and hand hemmed instead of the machine hemmed cotton ones we have now. This may be a never ending project, but I’m enjoying it. Read this entry on entry page