Lord Simon de Spaulding’s Swiss-German Persona Challenge

Lord Simon’s Persona Challenge entry can be viewed here: https://voyagesthroughtimeblog.wordpress.com/?frame-nonce=592888ff0c

The Oak (TO): How did you get started in the SCA?

Lord Simon (LS): I was aware of the SCA from its inception in 1966, thanks to a full-page article in The San Francisco Chronicle on that first tournament in Tilden Park.  I remember seeing a photo of a man wearing a hauberk he had made of coat-hanger wire – and later getting to know him as a friend:  Henrik of Havn (mka Henrik Olsgaard).  I met Brian Dritar an Con (mka Brian Duggan) in 1976, when I was a music student at UC Berkeley, playing Irish Music in various pubs as well as at the Northern California Renaissance Faire and Dickens Christmas Fair.  Brian was my mentor in the SCA – he taught me heavy fighting, loaned me gear, gave me rides, and much more.  At that time he was Master of Sciences for the Kingdom of the West – I served under him as Master of Sciences for the Province of St. Andrews (San Francisco) and later for the Principality of the Mists (Greater SF Bay Area).  Brian got his Laurel at the same event I got my AoA – from Queen Bevin Fraser of Sterling, mka the author Katherine Kurtz.  I composed motets for every coronation (three a year in the West), and organized performances of Medieval Music at Crown events.  For a year or two I served as Master of Music (a kingdom office, reporting to the Mistress of Arts).  The House of Rockridge (David and Sharon Green’s household, based in North Oakland) helped me immeasurably in my musical endeavors at the kingdom level.  In 1980 I started working the Southern California Renaissance Faire, and between the Faires and other music gigs, my free weekends pretty much disappeared.  I was active in some SCA activities in Ansteorra in the 1980’s (I performed with my band Celtic Stone at the 20th Year Celebration); and then became active in the Shire of Cathanar in Atlantia when I moved to New Bern to take a staff job at Tryon Palace in 1998.

TO: Why did you want to further develop a persona in general?

LS: Over the years I have developed multiple personae for Renaissance Faires and Festivals, and other living history groups.  I have wanted to develop a Swiss persona since 1981, as I will describe later on.  I hope eventually to develop other alternate personae, such as a 13th-century Mongol and an early -16th-century Polish hussar.  Alternate personae are fun!

TO: How did the Persona Challenge fit into that?

LS: The idea fell on fertile ground, as I already had a few alternate personae I wanted to develop “some day”.  You could say that the Persona Challenge gave me just the “round tuit” I was waiting for!  Both my wife and my peer chose Anglo-Saxon personae…. but with the King and Queen having c.1500 Germanic personae, I just felt it was time to finally put some meat on Jurgen Waldgiger’s bones.

TO: Why did you choose a Swiss-German  persona in particular?

LS: During the years 1981, 1983, and 1984, I spent a lot of time in Switzerland performing music, with the music groups Golden Bough and California Breezes.  I went walking on trails, visiting museums, and learning local history.  While I have done this in many different parts of Europe, the Swiss persona was something I had in mind starting in the Summer of 1981, when I spent a month in a farmhouse on the edge of Pfyn, a village not far from Frauenfeld.

TO: Tell me a bit about how you planned your Persona Challenge entry. Did you have a strategy or vision that connects all four items you chose?

LS: Mostly I just wanted to do projects that related to what my persona would have known, done, or had.  Music and games are among  my principal passions and activities in the SCA, so it’s no surprise that two of my projects relate to those fields!

TO: Why choose Frauenfeld in Canton  Thurgau, of all places?

            LS: This was an area I really got to know during that Summer of 1981.  I later spent a month in Interlaken in Canton Bern, but that is an area full of tourism, and well known internationally.  Thurgau is off the tourist trail:  mostly agricultural  and woodlands.  While Thurgau’s countryside is lovely, it is not dramatic like the Bernese Alps.  Frauenfeld has a well-documented history, with a 15th-century silk flag, and a woodcut from 1538.  I became familiar with some of the 15th- and 16th-century history of the town and area during my time there.

TO: Let’s talk about your specific entries. Can you tell me a little about the sources/inspirations for the pieces?

  • Wir Zogen in das Feld

LS: I first learned this song out of a songbook, “Anderi Lieder”, which I bought in a bookstore in Frauenfeld in 1981.  A real Landsknecht song – pretty exciting!  This first project was probably the most ambitious, as I not only sang and accompanied myself, but also filmed a short introduction and description of my persona, in the Thurgau dialect of Swiss-German.  Maybe I was showing off just a little…  In 1981 I taught myself as much as I could of the Swiss-German language, which is not just a dialect of German, but an Alemannic language with grammar and syntax which differs from High German in several particulars. I attempted to demonstrate some of these distinctive idioms in my video.  Behind me in the video is a Frauenfeld flag which I commissioned from the town’s flag-maker (it was only available on special order) during my time there in 1981.  It’s a treasured souvenir of my time in Canton Thurgau!

  • Zopf

LS: I’m not much of a baker, and you can see that I got more flour on myself than on my loaf of Zopf!  I did enjoy a lot of traditional foods in Switzerland, but several of these appear to postdate the SCA period (e.g. roesti and spaetzli, both of which use potatoes as a principal ingredient).  Zopf, however, which is similar to Ashkenazi Jewish challah, is a traditional Swiss-German food with roots that extend into the Middle Ages.

  • Chess set

LS: I have been interested in historical games since my early days circa A.S. XI, and chess variants are a particular obsession of mine.  Courier Chess is a form of Chess that flourished in the German- and Dutch-speaking parts of Europe before, during, and after the time period of my alternate persona, so it was a natural.  The existence of the painting “The Chess Players” (Lucas van Leyden c.1508) was a boon – a detailed painting that shows what a Courier Chess set looked like around 1500.  I diagrammed the pieces, and then my friend Ian Roberts (in Caid) created 3-D printing programs for these and other SCA-period game pieces.  Ulfr Gangler (mka Ray Marks) printed the pieces for me in “Wood” filament, and I finished them.  The board is based on the board in the 1508 painting – I made it from the lid of a broken piano bench that my local music store was throwing away.  The board in the painting is checkered gold-and-vermillion, but I couldn’t bear to cover all the beautiful grain of the wood.  So… my board is checkered gold-and-reddish-stain!

  • Wood-burned box

LS: I have wood-burned and painted boxes of this type with my own and my wife’s arms, past and present branch devices, etc., so it seemed natural to do one for Jurgen Waldgiger with the Frauenfeld wappen (device).  I based the design on the 15th-century flag that I first saw 41 years ago in the local history museum in Schloss Frauenfeld.  Schloss Frauenfeld, now home to the cantonal history museum, is the castle clearly shown in the 1538 woodcut of Frauenfeld.

TO: What do you think was your biggest take-away from this challenge?

LS: It was the “round tuit” I had been needing to take Jurgen Waldgiger from daydreams to a walking, talking, singing, baking, chess-playing persona!  Sometimes it takes a challenge like this to take a project from the stuff of daydreams, into something more concrete.

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