One magical day

two delightful events

June 11, 2003|by Chris Copley

It's a tough call: Take the children to a festival where they can make art? Or visit a woodland in which time seems to have turned back to the Middle Ages?

Well, on Saturday, you can do both.

At the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, a half-dozen art teachers will lead children and parents through arts projects at the museum's annual Family Arts Festival.

Next door, the Jonathan Hager House hosts the annual Highland River Melees, a get-together of lords, ladies, serfs, craftsmen and other members of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Step back in time

The Society for Creative Anachronism is a research and re-enactment group focused on life in the European Middle Ages and Renaissance Era. Members select a country and era up to A.D. 1600 to call home, then take on the customs and dress of that time and place.

John Nelson, director of the Hager House, says his museum on Maryland pioneer living has a natural connection to this earlier period in European history.

"These people demonstrate the lifestyle of Jonathan Hager's grandparents," he says. "Jonathan Hager was born in 1714. His great-grandparents would have been born in the tail end of the Middle Ages.

"Plus, if you look at the landscape around Hagerstown, very little of it looks like Europe in the Middle Ages. So the Hager House is just perfect."

The Society for Creative Anachronism's most familiar aspect may be its medieval swordplay. Noblemen and warriors in brightly colored clothing parry and thrust in one-on-one combat or in massed "melee" battles. Group rules ordain that a blow to an opponent's arm, leg or head causes injury or death, just as in an actual sword fight.

Jean Lewis of Frederick, Md., coordinator for the Barony of Highland Foorde, the organization's local chapter, says these armed conflicts are the core of this weekend's gathering.

But there is more to the society than medieval-style swordplay. Lewis says members don't just dress up and play pretend. They learn about the dress, food, crafts and language of their chosen era within the Middle Ages.

"We have a couple of members that are like a group within a group. They only cover five years - 1598 to 1602," says Lewis, who goes by her Society for Creative Anachronism name of Lady Diedre ni Aodhifionn. "There are a couple groups who do that. One country, one time period. There's one group from Pennsylvania that does the viking era."

Event co-host Debbie Williams of Frederick, Md., who goes by the Celtic name Devorguilla of Darragh, enjoys the fighting, but has another priority at gatherings.

"The first place I'll check out will be the arts and sciences tent," she says. "There will be handmade objects on display - anything from armor to embroidery, calligraphy, metalwork, woodwork, fiber arts, pottery or any other art in period."

Sometimes artisans will be in the tent for demonstrations of blacksmithing, embroidery, making chain mail or some other craft typical of the Middle Ages.

Additionally, vendors will sell modern wares in keeping with the spirit of products of the Middle Ages.

Modern food and drink will be available. The Hager House will be open for guided tours.

Step into fine arts

In the courtyard of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, art teachers will lead projects in clay, collage, drawing and paper-dying. Children and adults can go from station to station, making projects to take home.

In addition, says organizer Linda Dodson, there will be other arts represented.

"We try to cover all the arts - performing as well as visual," says Dodson, the museum's education coordinator. "Fun with art - that's the main goal."

Face-painters and balloon-sculptors will share their crafts with children. One highlight of the day will be performance by mime Mark Jaster of Rockville, Md. Jaster, who trained with legendary French mime Marcel Marceau, will interact with children and present his show, "Piccolo's Trunk."

"Mime is something universal," Jaster days. "We all use gesture to communicate. Mime takes gesture as an art and refines it."

"Piccolo's Trunk" will take place on a small stage, but it is not a spectator show, Jaster says.

"It's a fun, participatory show - interactive and playful. It's like a one-man circus," he says. "It's pretty much wall-to-wall fun."

At the art stations, veteran museum art teacher Hilda Eiber will help children model small animals in clay. Amy Blank will lead a collage activity. Kathryn Paul will lead an activity for younger kids.

Mike Gouker, also an art teacher at North Hagerstown High School, will lead drawing at his station. He says he'll offer guidance when it's welcome and let young artists alone if they know what they want to draw.

"They'll come there with the idea, maybe they'd like to draw horses or draw people," he says. "I try to teach basic drawing skills, observation skills. It is a short time, so I'm not giving formal lessons. You just want to instill a desire to learn."

Sandy Gray-Murray will lead a paper-dying activity similar to tie-dying cloth. Kids will fold a piece of absorbent paper, color it, then add water with a brush. The color spreads in unexpected ways.

"It's kind of this magical moment when you unfold your paper," Gray-Murray says. "You open it up and it's like, 'Wow! Now let's try folding another way and see what happens'."

Dodson says she hopes the event - the seventh annual arts festival she has worked on - will draw area families to the museum.

"My other goal is just to let people know that the museum is here," she says. "We'll have people who will be here for the first time. They'll come into the galleries and look around. They're surprised."

If it rains, the festival will move into the museum's galleries.

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