No, this is not fantasy fiction. It’s real life. Well, sort of.
Straatmann, the student records and curriculum specialist for the dean’s office, is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to researching and recreating pre-17th century European history (600-1600 CE). Each member of the Society adopts a “persona” they have created through meticulous research and has a creative specialty. Everything from clothing, to kitchen utensils to weapons to kilns, is recreated from historical records.
“We try to make everything as authentic as possible,” Straatmann said.
At any given SCA event, you might see a 7th century Viking warrior working alongside a 16th century German weaver who is married to 10th century Russian rock carver. That’s where the anachronism comes in.
Straatmann got involved with the Society 12 years ago while an art student at the University of Northern Iowa as a way to network with other students and teachers. She didn’t know what to think during the first meeting.
“These people were nuts and I loved them,” Straatmann said. “I had no idea what was going on, but I joined immediately.”
And now, she’s a court baroness. She used to be a territorial baroness, appointed by the King and Queen of Calontir to rule over Mag Mor, but she stepped down when her tenure was up. And she doesn’t miss it. “I’m what you’d call a Baroness Lite,” she said with a big smile. “I still get to wear the coronet, but don’t have all the responsibilities.”
An accomplished sculptor who specializes in clay pottery, Straatmann’s persona is a 12th century Russian lady who creates “functional kitchen pottery.” Her husband, Michael, is a 16th century Russian blacksmith. (“He doesn’t mind the age difference,” she says.) The couple participates in several events each year. And they always include son Nels, 5, a fierce Viking who makes “wonderful pinch pots and loves wearing his ‘fancy clothes’.”
Straatmann designs costumes—without a pattern—throws a variety of pots and other clay items, continues to research her era and practices her drum. Michael Straatmann, stacks manager at Love Library, works at his forge designing tools and weapons, and is the advisor for the UNL student chapter of the SCA. “This really is a lifestyle,” Lori Straatmann said.
Events range from one to 13 days and benefit members of the group. “It’s not the same as a Renaissance Festival,” she said. “We don’t do it for money or entertainment, we do it for ourselves.” Sometimes the Society holds special competitions that revolve around a theme. For example, an arts and sciences competition that had a Viking theme would require a new piece that fits the theme—perhaps something that required using Runes.
The SCA also hosts some public events; for example, the Renaissance Festival at James Arthur Vineyards near Raymond, held each May. The group brings in merchants, holds competitions and provides entertainment. But always the focus is on education.
Events lasting more than a day are typically called camping events. SCA members stay in tents, build a fire pit or even put up kilns or forges. “We basically live as if we’re on a military campaign,” Straatmann said. At these events, members teach classes, host tournaments or go to war.
One such event is the Crown Tournament, which is held every six months, and determines who will be the next King and Queen. Combatants wear armor and battle with specially made weapons. The last one standing is named king and receives his crown at the next coronation. “This is a full-contact sport,” Straatmann said, and sometimes people get hurt. Like her husband, who came away from his battle on the Arizona battlefield with nothing but cracked ribs and battle tales. “He’s not really the warrior type,” she explained. “You really have to have military prowess to become a king.” Queen candidates also are chosen through battle—some choose a champion to fight for them, others fight their own battles.
There are 19 kingdoms in the world. Calontir, which stands for Heartland, comprises Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Fayetteville, Ark. (some of the founders of the kingdom moved to Arkansas, but wanted to remain part of Calontir).
At times these kingdoms choose allies and go to war. The troops wear armor and carry weapons. Although that may sound dangerous, it really isn’t. The weapons are made with rattan and closed cell foam. And spears are wrapped in duct tape (although pre-17th century warriors didn’t actually have duct tape, Straatmann said, practice weapons were made of wood and wrapped in a shiny substance). So no one really gets killed in battles.
Then how do you know who wins?
“You get war points,” Straatmann explained. But the points don’t matter. “We do it for fun. And the good thing is, if you kill someone, they can get up and have a beer with you later.”