Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Midway Sprites

This year I was able to be part of a fantastic project in conjunction with my own place of work. MOSI in Tampa obtained a grant to improve the Richard T Bowers Historic Tree Grove, a project that I have been planning for over 10 years. This year, I am finally able to work on making it a reality.

The space is a small park of 16 trees which are seedlings of parent trees, each connected with a famous person, place or event. My dream has been to combine history, art and gardens to create a beautiful and moving space.

With the help of a Hillsborough County Historic Preservation grant, we have been able to start with a number of improvements. Each tree will have a sign that explains its past and is adorned with beautiful artwork by Holly Bird. Each tree will have an ethnobotanical garden to help interpret its past with concepts created by myself and the brilliant Jill Staake. An artists created wind instrument for each tree will give voice to every tree when the wind shakes their leaves. Lastly, each tree will have a bench for guests and each bench will be decorated with a piece of art created especially for the tree.

A number of incredibly talented artists created gorgeous pieces for the project, but this time I got to bring my art to work with me. I created the bench art mural for the Frank Lloyd Wright Ginkgo tree. I took my inspiration from the design of Midway Gardens in Chicago and the Garden Sprite statues that adorned the structure in its brief existence.

Last week the printed versions of the art arrived and on Thursday we will install the benches in place. In the next few weeks we will also install the printed murals on the garden benches and a piece of my art will finally have a home in the garden where I have worked for nearly 14 years. Anyway, here is the piece and the information that I put together for the MOSI website.

Kristen Gilpin: Artist Statement
I'm fascinated by history and how it reaches into the present. Modern ruins, ghost towns, lost graveyards and demolished places have a special draw for me. I enjoy researching and exploring these areas and using them as inspiration for my art.

This piece was inspired by the sprite sculptures and a sketch of a mural that appeared at Midway Gardens in Chicago. Midway Gardens was an indoor and outdoor entertainment complex that was designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Decorating the inside and outside of the complex were sculptures entitled Garden Sprites. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and sculpted by Alphonso Iannelli, these statues were angular and beautiful men and women. Some playful, others thoughtful, some victorious, the Sprites of Midway Gardens were paired with wall murals to create an otherworldly and beautiful space.

Midway Gardens changed hands and names several times in the brief years of its existence. In 1929 Midway Gardens was demolished and the rubble was bulldozed into Lake Michigan. The demolition included not only the building, but the hundreds of pieces of statuary that had been used at the site. In the mid 1940's several of the sprites were found damaged but intact in a field in Wisconsin, apparently having been saved from demolition. These few were restored and put on display.

Midway Gardens now exists only in black and white photographs, design sketches, memory and these few remaining intact and broken pieces of the sprites. I am glad I could help find a new garden home for the memory of Midway Gardens and the Sprites.

About Kristen: Kristen Gilpin is a historical reenactor, maker of butterflies, artist, calligrapher, gardener, adventurer and history enthusiast who resides in Tampa, Florida. More of her art can be seen at her art blog: melessee.blogspot.com

Prints of the Sprites can be found at my Etsy store: Currant Thoughts.

Monday, September 23, 2013

On the making of better SCAdians...

I'm continuing with posting some of my thoughts about the SCA and how I would like to see it improve. Today, I'd like to concentrate on my thoughts about newcomers.

I love newcomers. To them all of the grandeur, pomp and pageantry of the SCA is a wonder. I love watching how they wince when they watch a strong blow landed in a heavy combat tourney, how they lean forward listening to songs at a bardic circle, how they just see with wonder the things to which we have become accustomed.

How do we help them to keep that wonder and become members of our community rather than just visitors? What takes a spectator and makes them yearn to be a participant? We must include new people and train them to be better SCAdians. However, we have to be better SCAdians as we work to set that example.

It takes a little time. It means a little forethought. It requires you to think about more than just yourself and your friends. Sure, it's easy to get caught up in what you are doing but think of it this way- that new person might be the one helping you mop a hall in ten years.

Fact: People like to feel welcome.
It is hella uncomfortable to stand around in a room or campsite full of people who all know each other and are chatting amiably when you don't know a soul. Make a small effort to be welcoming and you might find a new friend or just help a new SCAdian get started a little easier. Invite new people to step deeper into an event, a class, a project and help them become welcome participants.

  • We can welcome new people by smiling and saying good day each time we see someone who we do not recognize. Positive body language and polite conversation are a nice place to start.
  • We can introduce ourselves to people we don't know. "Hi, I'm sorry, have we met? I'm so and so. Are you new to the area?"
  • If you are sitting at a bardic or in a class and someone wanders up looking interested, take a moment and invite them to come closer and join the group. Let them know what is going on and let them know they can ask questions.

Fact: People like to feel needed and useful.
Standing around with empty hands when everyone else has something to do is uncomfortable. No event in the history of the SCA has ever gone off without a bunch of help being needed. Try to look out for new people and invite them to pitch in.

  • Introduce yourself to people who look lost or alone when you are working on a project. Invite them to help you but let them know that they do not have to help. "Hi there, if you have a few minutes would you mind lending us a hand setting up these chairs?"
  • If you are working on a project and notice someone watching ask them if they would like to learn more about it. "Hi, I'm processing reservations for the event. Would you like to learn more about how we do this?" "I'm chopping vegetables for dinner tonight. Want to keep us company while we work?" 
  • Say thank you every time someone helps you. If you have just met them or if you have known them for decades, it does not matter. They helped you. Offer your thanks often and loudly.

Fact: People like to feel attractive.
Just once, take a moment to watch how a person changes at a day event when they wear their mundane clothing into a changing space and come out wrapped in a different century. Those who dress up stand a little straighter and smile a little easier. When people feel like they look good, they feel instantly better about themselves. Don't donate your hideous old kitchen tunic to Gold Key. Don't put your newcomer in rags.

  • Make an effort to help new people find loaner clothing that will fit them properly, be comfortable and will look nice. No, they don't need to be fully kitted in Elizabethan, but help them look respectable.
  • Make an item and donate it to Gold Key. A simple tunic dress, a fresh and clean pair of pants and tunic, accessories like simple belts. 
  • Take a moment of your time and tell people when they look good. New or old to the SCA, a genuine compliment feels good. 
  • Don't send out a new person dressed in something you would be embarrassed to wear. Ever.
  • If a new person admires your garb, help them find the knowledge on how to purchase it or how to get started with making it. Never tell someone that your garb would be too difficult or complex for them to make. It's rude and you have no idea what they are capable of. Be a good teacher, a good SCAdian and a good person. 

Fact: People like to feel knowledgeable.
When new people ghost around the edges of classes, tourney fields or even groups of people, they are interested. Something drew them in and caught their attention. Take some time with new people and help them find out how to learn more

  • Ask people what interests them and then suggest people on site or upcoming classes that might be able to help them gain knowledge.
  • Suggest some good books or websites on the topic. Ask for their email address and share your knowledge with them in a way that is useful and not an on-the-spot info dump.
  • No one gets it right the first time or every time. If someone makes a mistake, uses the wrong title of address or uses the wrong term for something accidentally, be polite and correct them with a smile. Use gentle language like you would want from someone who was correcting you. 

Fact: People like to feel appreciated. 
Doing a good job or working hard and then not being acknowledged is a soul-sucking experience.

  • Say thank you. A lot. Whenever someone helps you, say thanks. Every time. It's not overkill.
  • Be free with tokens of thanks. Pack a few blank note cards that can be turned into on-the-spot thank you notes. Have a few spare items of largess that you can hand to someone when they do something cool or helpful. Exhibiting this behavior of recognition helps to teach our new people how they can thank people in the future. 
  • Give honest and genuine compliments. Tell people when they look good or that you appreciate their effort with something they have done. Thank people for serving. 
  • Compliment even small acts of chivalry. A new person offering to help carry a chair should be made to feel welcome and then thanked for their effort. a gentleman pausing so that a lady can pass. Someone holding a door. These are the ideals we want in our society. Start by doing them. Finish with acknowledging them in others. In time, it really will catch on.

Fact: People like to try stuff out.
One of the recent inspirations that struck me was from one of my own associates: My apprentice HL Finnguala inghen Alister was making a piece of stick weaving and another friend looked on with interest. "Do you want to learn how to make this?" Finnguala asked. The other lady quickly said yes. Finnguala whipped a stick weaving starter kit out of a bag and put it in the lady's hands. "Let's get you started then." I was floored: what a great way to get someone started with an art? It made me realize that I need to up my game. A scribal art starter kit might be a little harder, but maybe I just need to think a lit farther out of the box.

What have I left out? How can I be a better SCAdian by helping others get involved in this club?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

About this Game I Play

I have made amazing friends.
I am going to take a few moments to step away from my art and talk about the club in which I participate: the Society for Creative Anachronism. On many weekends a year, I join hundreds of friends at campsites around Florida. I put on medieval clothing and step into another persona. I pick up a quill and a brush and become a respected artisan among people who do hundreds of crafts of the middle ages. I walk past Knights who smile and nod their head to me. I exchange gentle banter with bards and gorgeous royal ladies. I use my hands to help others shape a modern place and time into a shadow of the middle ages and then I step inside for a weekend at a time.

Who gets to do that? Me! Isn't that freaking cool? I think so!

The club has its ups and downs for everyone. I've been an active participant for around 15 years. I've been a Laurel for nearly 10 of those. I have had good and bad times, but I have learned some amazing things and some valuable lessons. I have met incredible people. I have loved. I have lost. I am still here. Why do I do it? Well, I believe in the life lessons this hobby can provide and feel it is a worthwhile way to spend my time. I surround myself with remarkable people and we do remarkable things. So here are a few of my ruminations about this club to which I belong.

I get to wear fun dresses.

What I love about the SCA

There are lots of reasons I love this hobby, but the foremost is the people who play along side me. Their constant and surprising passions for long dead crafts, serving others and the joy of physical combat undertaken for sport.

Some people think this club is odd or quirky. Sure, maybe. But sitting on a couch watching sports has never appealed to me. I've always prefer to participate rather than spectate. I suck at sitting by and watching others do anything while I am still. I like too many things, learning and reading too much to just pick one hobby. So I found a hobby that keeps me busy, helps me meet interesting people and where I can practice two dozen arts in a day and think of it as a normal happenstance.


  • The look in the eye of a fighter right after they reach a resurrection point and turn around to head back into a large battle. Determined. Gritty. Ready. Ecstatic. Giddy.
  • Artgasm: the rapturous look that comes over artists as they make a leap of understanding in their craft or while they are explaining it to someone who seems to be interested.
  • The crinkle at the corner of the eye of someone who smiles as they are being thanked for their service: the bashful grin, the slight glow, the spring in their step as they move away and continue working. 
  • The straight and upright stance of a newcomer as they don their first beautiful garment. Either made by their own hands or loaned from a friend, there is something special about that first time that you realize that you look medieval and that you look good!

What I don't love about the SCA

We put ourselves and our hobby down by belittling it. We fall into politics. We allow ourselves to speak out negatively about people rather than trying to reach out a hand and help. Every social club has this same problem that is bred by its own membership. But we can be so much more.


  • Telling someone that you wear funny clothes on weekends: They aren't funny, they are awesome. Pieces of cloth that have been worked into art and that are imbued with the story of a time, a place and the people who wore them in history.
  • Talking down your skill as an archer because you do it in a medieval club. You are a goddamned archer. Do you know how cool that is? You wield a weapon that helped to decide battles and changed the face of history and you do it competently. Hell yeah, that is awesome.
  • Worked with two friends and made a runestone.
    Who gets to do that? Us!
  • Making light of the SCA as a club for drinking or free love. Sure, some people have a beer (or several). Some people at an event might be totally sauced and stupid with drink, but they are at an event that happened entirely because of volunteers. People who are not being paid anything have put together a medieval event at a church or a campsite or park. At that event there are classes, battles, courts, feasts, royalty, chivalry. That is rad. Some people drinking or hooking up does not take away from the insane amount of effort and creativity that goes into making an event go off without an obvious hitch. Be proud of what we accomplish on a regular basis. We make the middle ages come alive and breath life back into the crafts, arts and combat of the middle ages. What isn't amazing about that?

What I'd like to change about the SCA

I guess the things that I would like to change about the SCA fall into three major categories: how we treat and empower young people, recording our history and training our volunteers and, lastly, dispelling the aura of chivalry that keeps us from calling people out when they make trouble.


Young people are the future of our organization. Every time we invest in them and empower them we help them to learn a bit more about who they want to or can be. We need to show them, by example and through mentorship, how we want this club to carry forward, evolve and improve for future generations. In the middle ages, many of our teens would have been considered to have reached an age of majority yet we treat them like children and lump them in with much younger groups. I strongly feel that we work too hard to keep teens as children well beyond when we should.

Ask a teen what they want to learn in the SCA and their answers will shock you. Blacksmithing, feast preparation, medieval cooking, how to run an event, combat, arts. The same answers a college student new to the SCA would give. Let's start working to provide opportunities for our young people who are asking for more. Can a 13 year old be the head server at a feast? Yep. Can a 16 year old become a competent scribe? Oh yeah. Can an 18 year old win crown tourney? Yes, they can. They are people, just shorter (however, not shorter than me in most cases) and without as much world experience. These are the officers who will take over for us when we are exhausted. These are the people who will run events when we run out of energy or care. Treat them like people. Find out what they want to achieve and help them find a way to make it happen.

I make art in public.

Memory and Training

We do a shockingly bad job of recording our own history in the SCA. Who won a tourney at this event 4 years ago? Uhhhhh. Who got the art/sci awards a decade ago? Ummmm. Where is the information that I need to do this job I volunteered for? Yeah....

We need to record our own history and then publish and share that history in ways that are both relevant and accessible. We need to train our volunteers how to hold offices and have central locations to retain handbooks, forms, waivers and documents that can help those officers. No one should have to reinvent the wheel every two years. We should pass information on also to our royalty so they know, without surprise, what will be expected of them and what their expectations should be for those volunteering in offices that will work with and for them.

Take an office. Learn it inside and out. Find the problems. Try to fix them. Record your process and reports. Train your successor. Pass on your knowledge and information. Leave the office better than you found it.


Every group and club has them: people that just cause trouble. In the SCA, so often we step behind chivalry and politeness that we don't actually tell troublemakers that they are making trouble. They may not even know how they are perceived by others. This isn't nice on our part and we aren't being gallant. We are letting problems get bigger and not taking care of issues when a few words might fix a wrong. These troublesome people and situations spiral out of control and people quit the SCA in a snit or find another hobby with less perceived drama.

How do we fix this? Well, it sucks, but we have to talk to people and tell them the truth. We can be honest and yet still be polite but it is a scary thing. Will someone think you are a horrible and unkind person when you talk to someone about perceived bad behavior? Yeah, probably. Might it still be helpful? Maybe, yes. Might sometimes you be the one with the hangup or a misunderstanding and find yourself needing to make an apology? Yep, that might happen. But we can at least try to make the group better and be honest with people about how their words and deeds are perceived by others.

  • The person who gossips with you at every opportunity and tells you juicy tidbits about others very likely has juicy tidbits about you that they share with the next person who walks or phones up. 
  • The horrible mean person at registration might just be way out of their depth and feel thrown to the wolves with no idea how their actions are being perceived. Why not offer help and then quietly pull them aside when things calm down?
  • That awful peer that said something nasty is still a person and is likely having a crappy day. Have a quiet chat and remind them that their words are powerful and can hurt people in terrible ways.
  • Sometimes we gain a reputation of which we have no idea. People think we are grasping, unkind, ladder climbing, hob nobbing, brown nosing, rude to newcomers, or something else. Let a friend know how they are perceived by others. Tell them as gently as you can and somewhere without an audience. They may have no idea of their reputation and with knowledge and some good choices they can turn that perception around. 

I learned that I can write in knotwork. 

What in the SCA inspires me to keep playing

Quite a few things:

  • My associates, students, friends and their love of their arts and their service. The gleam in their eyes as they dream up a new project and that sly smile that they wear when they know they have something really, really cool. I draw my inspiration from them. I remember what it was like to be un-jaded and have a limitless view of the world we are trying to build.
  • When someone says thank you for something I have done or made.
  • When I watch people enjoy something I have made.
  • New people and their wonder.
  • Those few undefinable 'perfect reenactor moments' where we get a chill as we step into a moment, a scene that seems so right for the time period we are playing that it shocks even us. Sweet God, I think this is what the 14th century actually looked and tasted and sounded and felt like! Those moments seep into your bones and help propel you forward later when you are tired. They live in your dreams and curl like a mist at the edges of your vision, coaxing you to try a little harder and believe a little more. 
  • Artgasms. Cannot even make words that explain this feeling. Holy crap, I just painted a 15th century illumination and it looks pretty! I made someone cry by handing them something inspired by what they love most from the middle ages. Priceless.

How to make the SCA better, from my point of view

  • Show up. 
  • Try to see the good in what people are doing rather than searching for the possible bad.
  • Volunteer often.
  • Meet new people.
  • Be willing to let your opinions of people change as they evolve.
  • Don't perpetuate gossip.
  • Make something beautiful.
  • Keep old friends.
  • Aim to inspire others in your dress, your words, your manners and your deeds.
  • Lead by example and from the front. 
  • Stay willing to get in the trenches. Ladders need climbing, toilets need plunging, stoves need fixing, events need to be run, water needs to be toted. Be willing to be a good participant. We need every one of us.
  • Tell someone they are an inspiration.
  • Thank everyone who helps. Often. Loudly.
  • Speak your problems quietly, with logic and be at least business polite at all times.
  • Invite friends back to the SCA when they are dispirited by helping them rediscover the things they love.
  • Tell people your hobby is freaking amazing. You are an archer, a scribe, a knight, a lady, a herald, a tailor, a weaver, a cobbler, an officer, a leader. You have amazing skills and a set of knowledge that is so very rare. Cherish it. Be proud of it.

You can even start your own girl gang.

Was this always my opinion? Simply and sadly, no. Who the hell am I and what did I do with the person you remember? I got better. I got Perspective. It helps. I try very hard to have positive people all around me. I remembered why I like this club and made better friend choices. This has helped.

Being around so many negative people wasn't bringing out the best in me. People like my associates, my students and my friends... that is who I want to be with and how I want to be. Dauntless and capable. Equal to any challenge. Filled with love and good food and better wine... and not a little gin.

We must never forget the gin.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

MS Stowe 23 border

Inspiration Source: MS Stowe 23, British Library

Original Artist: Ghent Gradual Master

Origin: 1460, Netherlands

Creation Time: 2.5 hours @ scribal night

Loftie Hours border

Inspiration source: Loftie Hours

Original Artist: Masters of the Delft Grisailles

Origin: mid-15th century. Delft, Netherlands

Creation time: 2 hours @ scribal night