Middle Ages Come Alive During Norman’s Popular Living History Fair
QUESTION: When can a knight in full armor or a brightly hued court jester walk down Norman’s city streets without raising a single eyebrow?
ANSWER: During Norman’s annual Medieval Fair, this year scheduled for April 1-3.
Each spring since 1977, knights and jesters, along with a colorful assortment of minstrels, jugglers–even a curvaceous mermaid and a curmudgeonly beggar–have converged in Norman, joining with their 21st-century kin to celebrate the arts and all things medieval during Norman’s living history fair.
This year the Medieval Fair celebrates its 40th anniversary, so the 2016 fair shirts (available for $15) are red to celebrate its “ruby” anniversary. Also to celebrate, a T-shirt quilt made of many of the shirts created for previous fairs will be raffled off, said Ann Marie Eckart, who coordinates the Medieval Fair as one of her responsibilities at the University of Oklahoma College of Continuing Education.
Additionally, 40th-anniversary brass medallions made by fair artist Lisa Klein of IvyMoon Designs and a book depicting past fair posters as well as a coloring book version will be sold. Look for them at the “castle” booth located near the center of the fair.
The fair will again feature more than 200 artisan booths, 40 food vendors, games, demonstrations and ongoing entertainment on seven stages and elsewhere. “Feast and Drynk” offerings will range from the ubiquitous Indian tacos and funnel cakes to haggis-and-mash.
Dancing, theater and reenactments, jugglers, knights jousting on horseback and human chess games are just a few of the activities that await fair-goers, who are encouraged to attire themselves in medieval garb.
Also as in years past, a “medieval village” of more than 200 art and craft booths offering unique and handcrafted wares will spring up virtually overnight to tempt visitors with pottery, wood crafts, stained glass, armor, costumes, fairy wings, jewelry, leather crafts, and more.
Eckart points out that this three-day event–made possible, in part, by the Norman Arts Council Hotel Tax Grant Program and the City of Norman–has become the state’s largest weekend event and the third-largest event in the state. Due to its immense popularity, it was selected by Events Media Network as one of the top 100 events in the nation.
So, what is it about this event that attracts people in such numbers (an estimated 385,000 in 2015)?
Some come to view and purchase fine art, crafts, jewelry, clothing and other items, many with a medieval theme. Others are drawn to the diverse entertainment offered.
Yet others enjoy learning more about this colorful era. True to its origins, the fair maintains a strong educational component. Many artisans offer medieval craft-making demonstrations, while several organizations put in many hours of labor throughout the year, preparing to educate fair-goers about medieval life. They include:
- The Arthurian Order of Avalon, a nonprofit organization dedicated to medieval life and history for the purpose of entertainment and education. Each year, they plan an interactive display with games and pastimes of the Middle Ages. Students can also learn about the elements of heraldry and see the research projects of AOA’s members on display at their Education Tent.
- The Saltfork Craftsmen Artist-Blacksmith Association, a nonprofit organization of amateur and professional artists and craftsmen formed to share knowledge, to educate and to promote a more general appreciation of fine craftsmanship everywhere.
- The Society for Creative Anachronism, a worldwide nonprofit organization whose mission is to recreate life in the Middle Ages for the enlightenment and education of others. Its members offer Medieval- and Renaissance-style combat, dancing, and art and science demonstrations.
- St. Gregory’s University, which will sponsor an educational area with educational exhibits on the Middle Ages, labyrinths, Benedictine monasteries, brass rubbings and medieval-styled woodblock prints.
But according to Eckart, for most people it’s the totality of the fair experience that keeps them coming.
“The fair has something for everyone, whether they love shopping the arts and crafts, watching the performers, playing the games, or indulging in the food,” she says.
For more information, visit www.medievalfair.org.