Modern Renaissance Art Forms

Renaissance Fairs and festivals have become a rite of passage during the late summer and autumn months. In the midwest, Michigan has one of the more popular Renaissance fairs and usually runs on the weekends from late August into early October.

Many Renaissance fairs recall the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Some are set earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII, or in other countries, such as France, and others celebrate outside the era of the Renaissance; these may include earlier medieval periods (including Vikings) or later periods 17th- or 18th-century pirates. Some engage in deliberate “time travel” by encouraging participants to wear costumes representing several eras in a broad period. Renaissance fairs encourage visitors to enter into the spirit of things with costumes and audience participation. Many also welcome fantasy elements such as wizards and elves.

Renaissance fairs can have several variant names, many of which use old-fashioned spellings such as faire or fayre. These spellings originate from the Middle English feire, with variant spellings that include feyre, faire, and fayre. These come from the Anglo-French word feire. They also are referred to as “Elizabethan,” “Medieval,” or “Tudor” fairs or festivals.

The history of the modern-day Renaissance Fair is an interesting one. In 1963, Los Angeles schoolteacher Phyllis Patterson first held a Renaissance fair as a class activity in the backyard of her Laurel Canyon home in the Hollywood Hills. Enjoying what she had done, Patterson and her husband, Ron, presented the first “Renaissance Pleasure Faire” on May 11 and 12 as a fundraiser for the non-commercial radio station KPFK. The event drew some 8,000 people.

What was new during the Renaissance?

The fair resembled an actual spring market fair of the Renaissance period. Many of the original booths were no-charge reenactments of historical activities, including printing presses and blacksmiths. The first commercial vendors mainly were artisans and food merchants and were required to demonstrate historical accuracy or plausibility for their wares. The Pattersons organized volunteers into “guilds” to focus on specific reenactment duties (musicians, military, Celtic clans, peasants, etc.). Both actors and vendors were required to complete workshops in period language and accents, costuming, and culture, and stay “in character” while working.

The original independent Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California (RPFS) appeared in the Spring of 1966 at the Paramount Studios Ranch located in Agoura, California, focusing on old English springtime markets and “Maying” customs.  In 1967, the Petersons created a Fall Renaissance fair with a harvest festival theme in San Rafael, California. Fairs quickly developed into local traditions and began a movement that spread across the country.

No trip to a Renaissance Fairs and Festivals would be complete without certain activities, including taking the time to get a rendering of your renaissance experience done by a caricature artist. Besides that, these are the four must-do experiences when traveling back to the medieval era for an afternoon:

  • What says Renaissance food more than a giant roasted turkey leg? The mere mention of the idea instantly congers up a vision of Henry VIII holding a Turkey Leg. The Jumbo Turkey Legs which we enjoy come from the male or tom turkey, which is why they are so big. If you have heard rumors that the mega-legs come from an emu, chalk this up as another urban legend. Jumbo turkey legs have 720 calories and 36 grams of fat.  The legs receive a brine of spices and salt,  which gives them their signature taste. Nothing says Ren Fest Feasting quite like polishing off your humongous turkey leg. And yes, all the rules regarding consuming turkey and L-tryptophan still apply.
  • Shopping is a must, and nothing supports the local economy other than purchasing from an independent artisan merchant. While it may seem that these crafters are scratching out a living, the market for these wares is quite robust. In 2017, the total global arts and crafts market was valued at approximately 35 billion U.S. dollars and was forecast to reach 50.9 billion U.S. dollars by 2024. Some of the most popular items include Lip Balms and Lotions, Handmade Soap, Decorative Pillows, Book Bags and Tote Bags, Handmade Kids’ Clothing, Cards and Invitations, Paper Flowers and Specialty Home Decor. In addition, Artisan jewelry has always been a popular favorite.  This term refers to wearable pieces custom-made by a skilled craftsperson. So while the calendar says late summer or early autumn, get an early start on holiday shopping and find that special someone a truly unique, artisan gift they will cherish for years to come.
  • It may never hang in an art gallery, but a stop at the character artist is a chance to pick up a whimsical remembrance of the day’s adventures.  Drawing caricatures can be entertainment and amusement – in which case gentle mockery is in order – or the art can be employed to make a serious social or political point. Each caricaturist draws on the natural characteristics of the subject (the big ears, long nose, etc.), the acquired characteristics (stoop, scars, facial lines, etc.), and the vanities (choice of hairstyle, spectacles, clothes, expressions, and mannerisms). So, everything the caricaturist sees is fair game:  Dad’s Buddha belly, Mom’s curly hair, Big brother’s prominent beak, and little sister’s petite stature. In mere minutes, these flying markers will produce an image that kind of, sort of looks like one of our companions.  Subsequently, it will hang in a place of honor, such as a garage, basement, home office, or even on the side of the refrigerator.
  • While there is entertainment around every bend, one of the most exciting presentations is a recreation of jousting; a medieval sports contest in which two opponents on horseback, typically knights, fight with lances. Staging tournaments in Midevil times showed which knight won a lady’s honor, and jousting was the most romanticized form of combat. Ladies would give knights an item of personal importance – a piece of jewelry, a trinket, or a token of some sort – on the promise that he will give it back to her when he returns from the joust alive. Today’s jousting tournaments are staged with the utmost care to ensure that the brave knight and noble steed simulate all the courage and pageantry while still making it home in one piece at the end of the day’s activities.

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