|Things that are important:|
1) breadth, that is, not being a one-trick pony. Your four things should not be all metalwork, or all textile production, or all edibles. They don't have to all be in entirely different fields, just not all in the same general craft.
2) depth, that is, understanding how your piece would have been made and used in period, how it fits in the medieval context, what you know about that craft in period.
3) process, showing the steps, explaining the materials and techniques. The more show-and-tell this is, the better.
4) accuracy, using the period materials and techniques as much as you possibly can.
This is one of the Very Few competitions that actually does reward authenticity and accuracy, where our claim to be educational is actually deserved.
-So yes, expect to spend a fair bit of time considering what to enter and how you'll get the information you need to make it.
-Panic early, avoid the rush.
That was the short course. Now let's get into it.
One of the first things you should do, if you have web-access, is go to the Arts & Sciences Page for the Kingdom of An Tir, and look at the handbooks and judging forms. These are freely downloadable and printable, in a couple of different formats. The url is:
http://www.currentmiddleages.org/artsci/champ_forms.htm If not everyone has web access, the person who does should go online and print out hardcopy, which can be photocopied and shared.
You can also look at the former Kingdom Champions at: http://www.currentmiddleages.org/artsci/champ_formerchamp.html where clicking on the underlined names will take you to that person's discussion of what the Championship is about, some pictures of their work, and in some cases their documentation.
Why should you look at the judging forms? Because they will give you a good idea what the judges are looking for and what sort of entry and entrant the competition is intended to select. Look at the points assigned and see what weight each section is given. Two sections are multiplied, so they have more importance than the others. Authenticity is multiplied by 1.85, and Technical Ability is multiplied by 5.
Deciding on Your Entries
There is no "age limit" on entries for Kingdom A&S, that is, you can enter pieces made some time ago. However, it can be hard to document something you made long ago, when your standards may have been different, so most entries are made for that event. The same piece may be entered twice in different years, but no more than twice.
When you are deciding what to make, don't think like a modern artist for whom the past is a giant grab bag that you can cut and paste from. Think of things that had a purpose in period. Think of things your persona would have owned or made. Think of medieval crafts you've always wanted to try but never had an excuse to spend time on. Remember that only one person is going to win the Championship, but if you come out of it with things that you want to have, knowing more about a craft you're interested in, about the experience of a medieval craftsman, you win anyways.
Remember that your pieces should have a purpose. Art for art's sake was not a concept in the Middle Ages. A piece of carved wood has no purpose, but a carved wooden box does. You should, by the time you're creating your piece, have a good idea when and where it would have been made, and by whom, and for whom, and how it would have been used.
Although this is a chance to make some of those dream projects, remember to be realistic. You have four projects to complete, including research and documentation. If you've always wanted to make a medieval book, consider how long it takes to calligraph and illustrate, and whether you should set your sights on a book of hours, or something smaller, like a bestiary. If you desperately want to make a printing press, go for it, but if all of your entries are that complex, you probably won't complete them.
Remember that the competition rewards authenticity. Modern substitutes are allowed, but you should have a very good reason for not using the period material or technique. "It's illegal" is a better reason than "I would have to special order it". This is another place where you may have to make choices - if you have to make two or more substitutions, this may not be the best choice for an entry. You do not have to "grow the sheep" for your entries, that is, it is not expected that you make every part of it from scratch, and make the tools to make the tools. Remember you are trying to recreate the experience of a medieval craftsman, who belonged to a guild that probably had strict rules about who did what. I did not weave the cloth my book was bound in, because in period a bookbinder would not also been a weaver. If you want to go that extra step, you certainly can, and it will probably impress your judges, but it is not required.
When you are researching and deciding what to enter, you may find that you are fascinated by a subject more than a craft - for instance, how glove styles and gauntlet styles influenced each other over two centuries. You may think of making several sets of gloves and gauntlets, with documentation, and entering this. If you are going down this road, your best bet is to make your documentation into a research paper and use the gloves and gauntlets as examples. The reason for this is that judging several pieces in one entry is very difficult. However intriguing the judges find your presentation, they will have trouble scoring it. What if your leather stitchery is great but your riveting is weak? What if the 14th c. plate gauntlet is well-documented, but your proof for the chainmail mitt is shaky? The question keeps coming up - "What exactly am I judging here?" The best answer is "You are judging this research paper, the leatherwork and metalwork are support for the paper." Then everyone is happier.
Declaring your Intent
Full entrants are required to submit a letter of intent to TRMs and to the Kingdom MoAS by Kingdom Twelfth Night, providing a brief list of their entries so that appropriate and knowledgeable judges can be found.
Single entrants should inform the Kingdom MoAS of what they are entering, for the same reason, and around the same date. They do not have to inform TRMs because they are not competing for the Championship itself. Full entrants need to be members of the SCA, just as entrants in the Crown lists and the other Championships do.
The letter does not have to be terribly formal. It can be calligraphed or emailed or scrawled on a piece of foolscap. It does have to include your name and address, SCA name and branch, a sentence or two actually saying that you plan to be a full entrant, and a list of your planned entries. Mark suggests that when you declare your entries, you should be fairly vague. Be specific enough that judges can be found who know something, but don't pin it down too exactly unless you have actually finished the piece. For instance, my 'stained glass window' became 'stained and painted glass quarries' because I didn't get the leading done.
In theory your entries will be close to completion or actually completed by January, so in theory your list should be detailed and accurate. In theory. By the track record of the other Champions I have spoken to, at least 50% of the work is done in those last 3 months. What was everyone doing in the months before that? Researching. Creation is the fastest part of the process.
The Day(s) of Judgement
Kingdom A&S is different from other A&S Championships and competitions in having two parts, usually called Day One and Day Two.
Day One is similar to other arts & Sciences competitions. You may enter as a full entrant, for the Championship itself, with four to six entries. You may also enter one or two "single entries" which is a useful way to get feedback and try out the competition at Kingdom level, without committing yourself to possibly taking on the duties of Champion. On occasion it has been possible to submit a piece for feedback only, no scoring.
When the first day of competition arrives, congratulate yourself - you have won the first heat, by completing your work and getting it to the event. There is a 20% to 50% dropout rate between declaring at Twelfth Night and presenting your work at the Championship.
Then remind yourself - this is not the end of the learning process that you began those months ago. It is another step in that process. However expert you are, be prepared to learn from your judges. They may know of books or other sources that you hadn't discovered. They may explain how to make your explanations clearer, your display more effective. They may know technical shortcuts that save you work. Of course, not all judges are founts of wisdom all the time. But if only half of your feedback is useful, that's still information and ideas you didn't have before.
When judges ask you questions, especially ones that seem obvious, they are often trying to draw out information that they are pretty sure you know but that you haven't made clear in your documentation or presentation. It's common to get so close to a project that you forget to mention basic steps. If you can, practice explaining your work to a friend who doesn't know the craft, to see how clear you are really being.
What is Day One like? Generally, you will be setting up your entries for display early Saturday morning or late Friday night. There will be a judging schedule posted so you'll know when you have to be with your entries. Kingdom A&S judging is not "blind", and you will be expected to give a brief oral presentation about your piece and then answer some questions from the judges. The judges will be a panel of three, and may also have a "student judge" with them, who sits in and listens. They will look over your documentation - you should have 3 copies for the judges. If you like you may have one or more extras for interested passers-by to look at as well. The judges will probably be with you for about 45 minutes, then they will need to confer and fill out the judging forms.
If you have a single entry, that's it. If you are a full entrant, you are looking at 4 to 6 hours of interacting with judges and presenting your work. It is a Very Good Idea to have a friend or other support person who can fetch things for you and generally be helpful and encouraging. It can be a very long day.
You will get the judging forms back that night or the next morning, after they have been tabulated. Again, if you have a single entry, that's it. If you are a full entrant, this is when you find out whether you are going on to Day Two as a finalist.
What does the Day One judging look for? Most of it is clear from the judging forms. The competition rewards Authenticity and Process. This does NOT mean you can ignore craftsmanship, presentation, etc. It means that a piece done with period materials and techniques will beat another piece that is just pretty and well-finished. A third piece that is made with period materials and techniques AND well-finished will beat them both.
Documentation is VITAL because it lets the judges know that you used the right materials and techniques, it shows that you know what those should be, it explains why you made any substitutions, it shows what sources you learned from and so on.
Presentation counts because it shows that you understand the context of your work. Try to show how it would have been used, or worn, and how it was created. What was the process? Show your raw materials, show your tools, especially if you made any of them. Show your mistakes, false starts, etc. because that shows what you learned and how you experimented.
What is Day Two like? Quite different. Yesterday your four pieces were being judged by several groups of three judges, who came to you. Today, the two or three highest scorers will each bring two or three of their pieces before a panel of five new judges and TRMs, plus whoever of the populace wish to attend. You are expected to give a brief oral presentation and answer questions again. You will need five copies of your documentation for the two or three pieces.
But this time you are not being judged solely on the quality of your work and documentation. Now you are being judged on how well you can fill the role of Kingdom A&S Champion. You and the other finalist(s) will take turns presenting your works. Your friend or support person will once more be very necessary. Day Two is well worth witnessing for anyone interested in the Arts & Sciences. It is a chance to see some amazing work, hear presentations about four to six different crafts and projects, and ask questions yourself while the judges deliberate.
What if you are a Day Two finalist? What then?
Day Two judges you on Champion qualities. The Champion is visible in court as an ideal of the An Tirian artisan, shares and inspires enthusiasm about period crafts, research and skill, encourages other artisans to practice their crafts and learn new skills. The Champion will be called on to judge and to teach. What a Champion says carries extra weight.
The first decision you have to make is which two (or three) of your four (to six) pieces to bring to this day's judging. You can choose those that scored the best, or those that you are most enthusiastic about and can talk about. If they are the same, you're set. If they're not the same, my (personal) advice is to choose the one(s) you are passionate about.
Yes, you will be nervous, especially to begin with. I found that thinking of my presentation as a mini-Ithra class helped, with the judges and TRMs being the students. It gets easier as you go, especially with a craft or project you love.
Process is even more important for Day Two. This is where show-and-tell really comes into play. Bring samples of your raw materials to the judges table and to TRMs. Pass around unfinished pieces as you explain the steps you went through. Give them your failures to handle and compare to your successes. (Past examples: Rauthulfr grinding chocolate for the judges, Giuseppe taking chickens out of twig cages and putting them on the table, Leticia dipping a skein of wool into woad, Cystennin cutting a quill for each judge.) If you have mobility or standing problems, you can sit by the table and have your support friend bring you things.
Some of the things judges look for: Are you at ease speaking? Do you look at people, do you come up to the judges table, do you speak directly to a questioner in the audience? Do you understand the context of your work, can you explain who it would have been made for, whether it was for a merchant, a wealthy bishop, a peasant? Do you know how (and why) it would have been made, what the choices for materials would have been, can you explain your own choices? When questions are asked, do you become defensive, or are you happy to have a chance to share your knowledge? If you don't know the answer, are you straightforward about it or do you try to cover up? Are there a lot of questions you haven't even thought about? Can you think on your feet, or are there a lot of awkward silences? If you get a "stupid" question, are you patient and clear, or dismissive? Can you share your enthusiasm and inspire it in others?
I hope that this makes a start on demystifying and explaining the process of the Championship.
Kingdom Minister of Arts & Sciences
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