Monday, March 10, 2014

Letting History Talk For Fun: Reenactments and Historical Demonstration

 In the way these things usually happen, I accidentally started myself down the road into a whole new hobby a few months ago when I did a letterpress printing demonstration in period costume. They say historical reenacting is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world, as people engage personally in their favorite time period. Meet the newest wannabe American Civil War era civilian reenactor!

Late last summer, I heard about a museum-hosted event in nearby Stephenville, Texas: "By Gone Days on the Bosque". They were looking for demonstrators of old time crafts and life for the annual one-day fundraiser celebrating the post-civil-war period in this portion of Erath County along the Bosque River. Those were true Wild West Days, when the citizens really were  cowboys, outlaws, Indians, settlers, renegades, notorious lawmen, cattle ranchers, rustlers, fence cutters, farmers, and sheep herders.

I offered to show how a wanted poster would have been made, using wood type and my little portable press. They had never had a Printer and welcomed me. My sister served on the board of a local museum in her town, and lent me a dress she had made from a period-correct pattern. She also made me a "pinner" apron to wear. I didn't have a bonnet so I used a hair net and a doily gathered with ribbon to cover my hair. Given the short time frame, I cobbled together a fairly passable outfit (Marjorie, I have not forgotten that I do need a corset :-) ).

I went to the experts in letterpress history: the LETPRESS email list, and got wonderful advice on what to wear and how to approach it. They especially recommended the book "Newspapering in the Old West", filled with photos and detailed information that is essential for accuracy. It is one thing to tell people that women were actively employed in the printing trade, and even owned and published newspapers during that time, but showing photos substantiates it, important proofs for all of us who were educated in the myth that American women "didn't work" before the feminist movement of the 1960s.

I have attended reenactment events before as a tourist, been a vendor at antique shows, and have demonstrated printing as an art form and a modern day craft. So I expected to enjoy myself. I had the BEST time!!!! Paul's back was killing him (two days later was when we learned it really was killing him and the surgeon saved his life - see previous post for details), so I had to go by myself, but it was still loads of fun.

Since then, I have been absorbed in caring for Paul as he recovers, and have been reading up on Historical Reenacting as it plays out in Texas and considering how I can take part. Most groups accessible to me focus on the last half of the nineteenth century (Civil War, Wild West, Indian Wars). Although far from expert, my knowledge about printing and merchandise in that era would make it easiest to take on an impression of a civilian merchant ("sutler") and Job Printer.

So I guess, now,  I am nearing the stage of identifying people in near-by groups to learn about their focus and what kind of impressions their group needs, to see if any would be a good fit. It will still be quite a while before I have freedom to attend events or take an active role. In the meantime I can keep studying, read the various forums, prepare myself and some materials, and start putting together a nice, authentic costume.

Now I am wondering: is there anything I need to know that I don't know I need to know? ;-)

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