Dances, scarecrows, boat parade in the works
For the Storm Lake Area Arts Council, moving ahead means stepping back - five hundred years back.
With the ending of Balloon Days in Storm Lake, the local Knights of Columbus chapter approached the arts council to help create a new event for the Labor Day holiday weekend in the city, and the answer turned out to be a medieval re-creation group that had already been itching to make its first appearance in Storm Lake.
The Society for Creative Anachronism plans to bring fighters and weavers and musicians and royalty to its first appearance in Storm Lake on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, a visit that they hope will lead to an ongoing relationship with the community.
"The group discovered us on the internet and wanted to bring some of their artisans to the Artists Alley event that the Arts Council has put on for the Star Spangled Spectacular," said Sherise Gibson, secretary of the local organization. "We had been looking for something to do to fill the void without the balloons, and with only about 60 days to plan something, it all clicked. We will try bringing the medieval group here for a year, and if people are enthusiastic, they will come back and expand the show to possibly triple its size next year."
The Arts Council feels that the show will be both educational and entertaining. "This is a great chance for people to learn about this period in time and all of the skills these people have mastered - weaving baskets, making soap, spinning string out of wool, doing archery with bows and arrows they have made themselves, and even hand-to-hand combat," Gibson said.
About 120 campsites have been reserved for the Society of Creative Anachronism at the Storm Lake Campground, where they will live for the weekend in true Renaissance style, welcoming local residents to join them - and perhaps even laying the groundwork for an SCA group to form in the area.
The Storm Lake gathering will have a special royal appeal, hosting a baron and baroness from the Des Moines SCA Barony of Coeur d' Ennui - Mark Judisch (Baron Magnus Anskegg) and Kelly Bettis (Baroness Winnifred d'Artois).
"It's a lot of fun. We've been doing this for going on three years now," said Winnifred - er, Kelly. "I actually met Mark at an SCA event, and now we've been together for six years.
"This is basically our life on the weekends."
During the week we live what we refer to as the mundane life of today, and on Thursday or Friday, we pack up the car and head somewhere back in history," she said.
The couple take their own rugs, bed and other period gear with them. "We like it to be all medieval, even inside my tent. We wear the costumes all weekend, and because we are baron and baroness, when we walk through the crowd, the others will bow to us and call us 'your excellency.' We try our best to stay in those roles, in order to make the experience enjoyable for all the people who take part, and for the people who come to watch. We are there for their entertainment."
Mark is a lifelong history buff who has also taken part in Civil War battle re-creations and buckskinner re-creation camps.
Kelly said she hated history in school, until the teacher arrived at the medieval period. "There is something about it that really grabbed me, and after that, I loved history," she said. "I think it is the amazing chivalry of the medieval period that appeals to me."
The Baron and Baroness will join in the demonstrations when the group comes to Storm Lake. Kelly, normally quite a fighter, has been forced off the battlefield due to a recent surgery, and will reluctantly settle for the weaving and fiberwork demonstrations, though she says she is considering a little belly-dancing.
"There is going to be several demonstrations going on in Storm Lake, and we are hoping that a couple of our musicians go up, because that always gives special spirit to an event. The Baron and Baroness will hold court in Storm Lake in the afternoon.
The Society for Creative Anachronism was born at Berkley University in the hippie era of the 1960s, and has grown into a worldwide phenomenon.
"We have members in Australia, all across Europe, Canada, even in Guam," Kelly said. "They just held a big encampment in Pennsylvania that had over 12,000 people on site for two weeks. In Iowa, it's really starting to spread - just last weekend I met with some guys from Pella who are planning to establish a new group there."
The baron and baroness are chosen for their abilities to represent the kingdom by the king and queen of the midwestern U.S. region, which covers several states. The king and queen earn their crowns through performance on the knight-style fighting field.
For the Storm Lake Arts Council, going back into history is just one example of how this group is stepping forward.
"The Arts Council is really growing and doing well these days. We have 13 on the board and about 30 more people on the council," Gibson said.
They are already working on an expanded Labor Day celebration for 2005, which is likely to feature a boat parade and a return of the bathtub races that once graced Balloon Days.
Coming October 16, they are working on a big community dance event to be held at the Alta Community Center starring the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famers "The Traidmarx."
Plans are in the works for a "Red Wine and Blues" event that will showcase the products of Iowa wineries and cheese factories as well as top-notch music. Buena Vista University is a possible site for such an event.
The Arts Council is currently organizing another Scarecrow Contest for the upcoming Chamber of Commerce Moonlight Madness event downtown this fall.
Another community dance will be held next spring with the return of "The Magnificent Board of Directors" band.
"The Arts Council really encourages everyone to share ideas and get involved to make the community an even more enjoyable place," Gibson said. "One thing that really helps is that when a member of our group comes up with an idea, they get to see it through and everyone else steps forward to help them."
New members are welcome to the Arts Council, which meets normally on the first Sunday of every month. All meetings are open to the public. For more information, contact President Tom Ellis, Vice President Wanda Tomford, or secretary-treasurer Sherise Gibson.