The next in our series of Æthelmearc Artisan Profiles, from Meesteres Odriana vander Brugghe: Robert l’Etourdi.
Like most long-time SCAdians, Robert l’Etourdi has dabbled in quite a number of things over the years: Quill pens, iron gall ink, ink research, fencing, working with period pigments, making English long bows, making arrows, teaching, learning how to make/shoot flat bows, learning how to make/shoot laminated recurve bows, making mead and ale, research of Asian calligraphic brushes, and making clothing. What he loves best, though, is making bows and arrows and brewing mead and ale.
“Since I started making meads it became recently very popular and is currently the fastest growing segment of the alcohol market” Robert informed me. “A good mead can take on the same complexity as wine”. When asked what his preferred mead to brew, he said that he prefers strong meads and mellomels (fruit flavored meads). The popularity of meads has made the general population more open to trying them when, in the past, mead was considered to be “strange” or reserved for, well, people who do medieval reproduction or attend Renaissance Faires.
The thing that Robert likes most about his work is starting with a bunch of materials and at the end of the project, having a real, working thing. “There’s a feeling of accomplishment that comes with building something that you don’t get with other things.” Robert also shared that he keeps his work fresh by choosing to not engage in activities that he doesn’t enjoy. It focuses his work and makes his hobby enjoyable over the long term.
The person who has most inspired Robert along his path as an artisan was the late Edward the Gray, who he calls a “major inspiration” and someone who he seeks to emulate in all that he does. The most fitting description of the kind of person Edward was is contained in Robert’s announcement of Edward’s passing, “[He] shared his knowledge of bow building, fletching and knife making with anyone who wished to learn. His spirit, even in his declining health never faltered. His joy when seeing a student successfully shoot a new bow that he taught him to make never dimmed.”
While Robert’s focus has been on brewing and archery, what he is best known for is his research into and teaching how to make quill pens. When I asked him how he got his start, he said “When [Mistress] Gillian was the head of the scribal guild in the Rydderich Hael she saw what I was doing and began to describe the scroll that I was going to be working on. It became my first assignment and the beginning of my scribal career.” It took two years to perfect the process that he uses for making quill pens, this is the process that he teaches to others. After teaching his quill class one Pennsic, a Sofer (a Jewish scribe who can transcribe religious writings) approached Robert afterwards to inform him that the process that he teaches is the process that the Sofer learned when he was learning to cut quills.
Robert’s dream project is to make a functional composite bow using all period materials. This is the kind of project that takes years and draws upon essentially all of Robert’s experience and skill. It’s the kind of project that takes a great deal of skill and passion, two things that Robert has in abundance. At this time, Robert does not have a website detailing his work, but he frequently teaches at Æcademy and Pennsic, depending on his availability.