- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) - While camping, crafting and mock combat each has a strong and enduring presence in the modern day, other 21st-century adventurers prefer to take a more traditional approach to their modern hobbies.

Many local hobbyists have looked to the old ways for an alternative approach to their passions, trading in paintball guns and model kits for broadswords and anvils.

Through several local outlets, the medieval attitude toward crafting, combat and living endures - beyond the lone individual living off the grid, these re-enactors have come together to form guilds, clubs and armies with other like-minded hobbyists.

Darrin Cox, a history professor at West Liberty University, has been involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international organization of more than 30,000 hobbyists, for years, during which time he has led by example in bringing other interested adventurers into the fold. He recalled being pulled into the field while in college in the usual way: with swordfighting and alcohol.

“I was in college, and a friend of mine said, ‘Hey man, want to put some armor on, hit some people, and maybe drink some beer?’” Cox said.

At his first event with the SCA, Cox said his protective gear consisted of a propane tank with a face grid cut into it and stuffed with couch cushion foam.

“It was hot, and horribly uncomfortable, but it was also a lot of fun. Within two weeks, I was in Washington, D.C. to do it again. And that’s where we got started on competitive living history. So my first foot through the door was being as historically accurate as possible.”

Cox serves as the adviser to the school’s History Club, where like-minded students and graduates approach him with suggestions to get involved in other historical events accessible to those interested. Cox speculated that much of the attraction toward involvement in the History Club’s activities, and beyond, comes from students fascinated in his equipment, which he has used as teaching aides.

“A lot of it is driven by the fact that I’ve got the toys. I’ve got a riveted chainmail shirt. I’ve got a replica Viking helm. I’ve got these things and I teach in it, and when someone goes ‘Ooh, shiny!’ I get to talk about it.”

Beyond just owning and teaching medieval hardware, equipment used in the SCA had been handcrafted by their owners using authentic techniques. Russ Schultz, minister of arts in the local chapter of the SCA, said that much of the activities in the Society focus on the creation of authentic products, which he said is a big draw for many of their members.

In addition to blacksmithing, Schultz said some of the more popular crafts include illumination, calligraphy, paper making and painting.

Beyond the SCA, medieval craftsmanship and techniques has become a staple of crafters at local Renaissance Faires.

Deirdre Alpaugh, a copper craftswoman from Virginia, said jumping into the medieval scene was the best business move she could have taken. Along with her fellow jeweler Heather Knouse, Alpaugh got her start at craft fairs before she was inspired to try her luck at a local Renaissance Faire last year.

“A friend actually said, because we were doing craft fairs, said, ‘I think you should go to the Virginia Renaissance Faire,’ and we were thinking, we’d need to get costumes, we’d need to set up a booth - and we had more fun and made more money doing that than ever before,” Alpaugh said. “One of the things we discovered is that, unlike a craft show which is expensive, and lasts for one weekend, and with a lot of people just wandering by, a Renaissance Faire has people come here in a good mood, they’re already happy, they come on purpose, and they save their money to come year after year wanting a memento.”

After testing the waters, Alpaugh and Knouse took their operation, Aeris Dea, on the road, where they now operate at Faires nine months out of the year, selling handcrafted copper jewelry across the Appalachian region.

Another regular at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival, Walter Aberson, a potter from South Concord, N.C., said his passion in life had always been pottery, and a chance meeting enabled him to pursue his craft full-time. Originally a craftsman at historical sites near his hometown, he became enamored with Faire life after meeting a fellow crafter who admired his work.

“I was invited to do pottery at an antique festival near Charlotte,” Aberson said. “I was demo-ing there, and a man standing a few feet away stood for a few hours watching. He eventually came up and it turned out he was a crafter at the Carolina Renaissance Festival. I went out to visit him and fell in love with the place. … Fifteen years later, he sold his shop, I bought it, and started this in 2010.”

Aberson operates Ye Village Pottery at several locations between Georgia and West Virginia. The Faire circuit, he said, allows him to focus fulltime on his work.

“Pottery’s a passion in my life, and if you don’t have a venue to sell at, you can’t keep making it all the time.”

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Information from: The Intelligencer, http://www.theintelligencer.net

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