This past weekend, Grand Valley State University held its annual and highly anticipated Renaissance Fair. The grassy area around the clock tower was overrun with tents and people who share their love for the event.
Merchants, artists and visitors gathered to immerse themselves in the Renaissance era for a few days. This event, organized by the GVSU Renaissance Festival Club, was the 26th annual festival.
Over time the club has shrunk in size in some years and grown in others, but the festival tradition has continued despite the attendance levels. This year, the club has about twenty active members, which has enabled them to set up a major festival.
Club members, traders, artists and other spectators of the event were dressed in Renaissance clothing for the occasion. People wore classic Renaissance armor, dresses and corsets. Dressing up the role is an important aspect of the renaissance festival and allows everyone to express themselves in ways they are not used to on a daily basis.
“I’m looking forward to the experience of being able to take on a different personality and put on a costume,” said Aaron Kumpula, a GVSU student and member of the Renaissance Festival Club. “It’s a cool way to immerse yourself in a different time and feel like you’re part of something bigger.”
The club’s merchant manager created a space for vendors to set up tents and sell merchandise related to the festival theme. Clothing, jewelry, chain mail, and leather goods were available for purchase.
A museum was also created, displaying information about warriors from different times and places around the world. Artifacts, such as swords and sickles, have been displayed to educate visitors and mimic weapons that have been used throughout the periods.
A merchandise tent, Oma’s Costume Closet, provided viewers with clothing that was in keeping with the renaissance theme. Corsets, skirts, dresses and other accessories were available for purchase.
Dark Goddess Leather Pleasures, a tent of leather goods and clothing merchants, was run by Diane Kowalski, a GVSU alumna. Before becoming a merchant, she was involved in the Renaissance Festival Club from 1999 to 2003 as a student. Having been involved in 23 fairs over the years, it has left its mark on the renaissance festival.
“I stayed and help out as a mentor or as a go-to person if they have questions or need anything,” Kowalski said.
As well as being a merchant, she has recently become involved with Her Majesty’s Royal Guard as an equerry. This community goes through intense training to grow as a knight in a historically accurate way and put on shows to entertain event attendees.
Marshal Hywel, a member of Her Majesty’s Royal Guard for 25 years and an alumnus of GVSU, was an early member of the GVSU Renaissance Festival Club. Now he returns to the festival to fight with other knights.
Each knight is protected by uniquely cast, handcrafted armor that they learn to build and shape themselves. They are then equipped with a sword and compete in the arena set up in the middle of the tents. Attendees watched the spectacle as sparks flew as swords collided.
However, before this is possible for the knights, they spend their time as a squire learning how to fight, crafting their own armor, choosing a character and a desired time period.
“Part of their stable is making this armor, so they hammer everything out of cold steel and just start building their armor piece by piece in painstaking detail,” Hywel said. “It’s very personalized for the person because if it doesn’t fit you exactly, it hurts you a lot.”
Later in the day on Saturday, a knighting ceremony took place in which an eight-year-old squire was officially knighted, which is an event that only happens every few years.
Other entertainment was on hand for the festival, such as musicians, storytellers, and some at campus clubs. The GVSU Shakespeare Club presented a performance of “The Merry Women of Windsor” Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Louis Armstrong Theater, Haas Center for Performing Arts.
About 200 people attended the festival this year. High attendance rates like these are what allow the club to maintain this tradition year after year.
Students interested in joining the Renaissance Festival Club are always welcome to contact and attend the events they organize throughout the year.