Sunday, April 9, 2017

Medieval Day

More than two years ago I embarked on a mission of sharing with others what I have been learning from my research on medieval furniture. In fact this was the primary reason for me beginning this blog, which is now in its third year. I have been hoping for opportunities to meet others who share my passion for medieval things, and to demonstrate what I have learned. This has been a fruitful year in that regard. Last summer I gave a talk about evidence for tools which no longer exist. A few weeks ago I gave a lecture on a general overview of medieval furniture, and yesterday I was invited to participate in my first ever Medieval Festival which took place at Catholic University in Washington DC. I pitched up in my renaissance outfit because as of yet, I have no medieval gear. Hey, this was my first time ever to encounter a group of real live Middle Ages enthusiasts of any kind. At least I looked good even if not dressed for any of the right centuries!




A couple Hundred Years War era (style) tents lend a good medieval atmosphere
to the festival
I only thought to take a picture of this as everyone was packing up to leave

It was a rather small affair with only a dozen or so demonstrations, and a small audience of 50 or so, but nonetheless it was an enjoyable event. For me, the highlight was a play put on by the Latin and Greek club, which included my new friend who was actually responsible for getting me connected with this event. The play was an English translation of a play written in the 12th century by Vitalis of Blois. (which was an adaptation of a Roman play written by Plautus, in the 3rd century BC) It is a comedy, and quite a good one at that. I would highly recommend everyone to try to read it, but was unable to find any link to it on the web. I was also too engrossed in listening to it to think to take a picture of the performance.


My table set up with a few medieval items as well as a few tools I have made
over the past 15 years
My involvement in the event was part demonstration and part technical presentation. I chose the topic of painted furniture and the way that gesso was usually used before the paint. The discussion centered around the way that, when the gesso is damaged by water, all traces of it and the overlaying paint will disappear, leaving only a plain, raw wooden surface. (The same basic message as my Something is Missing post of a few weeks ago)


Discussing the Middle Ages in a renaissance costume using a computer
and a microphone. This was a hard-core-authentic group

Discussing how gesso is made and used

For my demonstration I wanted to do a little planing but I realised that it would not be good to be doing a 'medieval' demonstration with an 18th century plane, especially since I am keen on dispelling the myth that "planes did not exist before the 14th century". As of Friday, I had no medieval plane, though I have thought many times that I should and would like to make one. I realised that necessity is a great motivator, and so I managed to design, make, decorate, and finish one in less than 10 hours. (and it even worked)



 A new plane made in time for the festival; it is based on existing
4th through 9th century examples
The blade is borrowed from an 18th century style plane I made 12 years ago


I thought the wood was Bradford Pear when I pulled it out of my firewood pile 10 years ago, but since then I have realised it was not, What it actually is, though, I cannot say; it has a lovely curly figure to it.

An example of  a small bone plane


A wooden example; this one with a bit of Migration Period carving
both planes ca 5th-8th century


These two planes have been an inspiration to me since I first saw them; they were the prototypes for my plane which is actually larger then these are, but in the same style.



I do not like copying anything, but I draw heavily on appropriate examples;
this ornament derives from the Book of Kells
Decorative embellishment in the Book of Kells which served as inspiration



Since one of the prototype planes had knot-work ornamentation to it, I felt that that fact gave me license to make my own strap/knot-work design. Believe it or not, working it out on paper and then carving it took as long as the entire process of making the plane in the first place. That knot-work did my head in for a while. I did not get it all correct, but I learned enough doing it that when I do another one it will be much easier. I always have to admire the skill and patience which went into these interlace decorations; if you start to actually study and examine them closely, you will find many of them are mind-boggling!


Demonstrating the new plane

It seems to work. This is actually a smoothing plane
but the table did not lend itself to using it as such

Hopefully this will be the first of many future events of this sort. Vivamus Historia!