Over the years, the Ice Dragon Arts & Sciences Pentathlon has seen some cool and unusual entries. I’ve mentioned a few in previous articles about the Pent and Pent group projects earlier this year, like the fantastical entry of three generations of ferret breeding by John the Artificer. Current Pent coordinator Cori remembers the hubbub that one created: “He can’t enter ferrets!” “Why CAN’T he enter ferrets?” and told me “if I recall correctly the next year the rules said No Live Animals.” Oh, to be the one a rule is named for – our word fame would last forever!
I must admit I had so much fun tracking down rumored entries through the grapevine I figured I’d write yet another Pent story. It’s not a chore at all as these pretty much write themselves! Did you hear about the year someone entered a full size Viking bed, which had to be stood up on its hind legs against a wall? Which, I now realize, explains the comments Hrólfr and I overheard when walking his tree log warp-weighted loom, in pieces, down the hallway towards the Pent room… “is that a bed? or a loom? no… I think a bed!” One time there was a painted-on-canvas tapestry of a whopping 25 feet long – recreating part of the Bayeux embroidery – and even a juggler that did tricks requiring 20 feet of clearance – he worked with five clubs and needed to throw high to have time to juggle all five – so he performed outside while the judges watched through a window.
One particular entry I personally would have liked to see up close was one of the first ceramic entries: a puzzle jug. This practical joke jug had holes at in the bottom and another one on the handle, for the thumb. If the thumb did not cover that hole on top, the water in the jug would sprinkle out the bottom. I do not know if the documentation mentioned this bit of information at the beginning, or at the end… and in my mind I see surprised and slightly damp judges! I was not able to track down this particular artisan to ask for clarification, but I found plenty of others more than happy to chat about their cool and unusual Pent entries.
A more recent entry that caught the eye of the audience was a beautiful teardrop shaped soapstone oil lamp by Master Cynwyl (then Lord). He remembers everyone loved it and said “I still use it at feasts sometimes. Since my persona is 11th cent. Irish, there would have been contacts with the Vikings in Ireland, so I thought it would work.” To shape the soapstone he used a coping saw, files and a sharp spoon-like tool called a scorp, and has used both linen and hemp twine for the wick. He uses vegetable oil for the fuel and lights it by dipping the wick in the oil, putting it in the grove and lighting it. He found that it will burn for about 9 hours and that the soapstone will heat up while it’s burning. The biggest challenge? “The hard part was tracking down the soapstone locally. Luckily there is a [local] geology/fossil store that had some.”
A much less impressive entry – perhaps, at first glance – could be the candied ginger by Mistress Honnoria of Thescorre (Order of the Sycamore at the time of entering). But while she is a Society renowned potter, she is not an SCAdian cook! She explained she had entered the candied ginger two years in a row: “The first year the scores were good, and I took the comments from that year to help my entry the next year. The second year I entered my scores on candy ginger were the best I had for the entire pent. I want to say I scored over 55 points on a scale of 60. It is absolutely worth taking feedback and improving once entry for the following year. That’s part of what good feedback does. I would say as long as someone is actually making the object again, I have no issues with them using the same type of item the year after. It was my best of the five scores that year and I believe ever.”
Like most artisans, she found it is often the hardest to find the fifth entry in the pent, and goes on to say (I love this part!): “At least personally it really challenges an individual into doing something they may not normally do. I would also say that one of my most interesting entries in terms of feedback was a weaving entry that I used based on a museum of London find. It was a card woven d-shaped cord. I tried to replicate it using cotton and the number of threads in the original. It was supposed to be round. I absolutely could not get it round and it wound up being the same D shape as the one in the book. By actually making it I figured out that the reason it was d-shaped and not round is you couldn’t pull it tight enough and there wasn’t enough warp threads to actually make it round. I broke a lot of thread in the weft making that cord. I wrote all of that up in my entry. It took a higher score than some beautifully done belts. The belts were beautiful, but they didn’t explain anything on why they chose to use acrylic versus wool or silk. They also didn’t explain any problems or issues they had. It is so important to put in to documentation if you had issues, what they were, why they were issues, and what you did to resolve them if you were able.”
My personal favorite was a malt house miniature entered by fellow brewer Master Madoc Arundel (then THL). The 5 foot miniature was fully functional although not very efficient, mostly due to scaling. He remembers he “did have some challenges with the heat sink between the kiln and the drying rack… again, because of scale. Since I could not get a very large fire in the small kiln, getting it hot enough to actually draw heat through the sink was a challenge. I was using actual burnt-wood charcoal and had to soak the base layer liberally in lighter fluid to get them to set a good enough coal bed to keep the temperature up. Unlike a full-size kiln which I would have been able to fire-and-forget, I had to constantly tend the fire to keep it hot enough.”
Madoc shared he learned a number of new skills for this project, including how to do mortise and tenon construction for the half-timber framing. And he harvested grapevines to use in the wattle and daub walls, and wove them before applying the plaster. He wrote: “The coolest thing, though, was the first time I fired up the kiln to see if it would draw through the vents… at its hottest, I had flame shooting nearly a foot out the top of the chimney.” Or course, it being a malting kiln, the real test was running a batch of grain through the process. He did two dried batches – one that was left just dry enough not to start growing again before the event and the other dried, left sit overnight, then ran through another kiln cycle to ‘roast’ slightly. “Honestly, I am as surprised as anyone that it actually functioned correctly.”
Another, fiery, project was entered by Master Creador (then Lord). In true artisan frantic, he wrote his documentation the night before the event as he almost did not enter! One of his pent entries had literally blown up: “The poor kitchen ceiling was covered in lead. Actually the modern, less toxic version of lead.” Creador recouped and did enter his fishing research in 4 categories instead. He did so well he now wonders if he would have won the full Pent if he had had that one last entry! The project came about when he finally located his primary source the month before the Pent, after researching fishing for many years.
His entry consisted of fishing line and wool for the flies and using dye recipes from the elusive Treatise (dyeing and weaving), as well as cork bobbers (wood working). He also entered fish bait made from rabbit (cooking), and entered the whole project in the mixed / specialty art category (the current categories are slightly different). His fail was with the lead weights (metal working). He used a handmade mold of tempered clay and wrote: “Unfortunately there was some moisture in the mold so it blew. Luckily I have quick reflexes.” Sadly for us, there are no pictures of the fail nor of the project as this all happened back in 1995 before project photography was a thing. Creador remembers, back then “I did most of my research through interlibrary loan.”
Not all cool and unusual entries to enjoy during the Ice Dragon Pent end up in the competition: the Pent also hosts a vibrant display. In the last pre-COVID Pent, Master Robert (then THL) made good use of this non-competitive opportunity. In his own words: “The genesis of the shoe show project came over a year before – it was not a last-minute idea. It seemed like a good way to display a corpus of work in order to draw attention – as [my Laurel] so often encouraged me to do – in a highly visible space. With that display in mind, I set about making a number of pairs of shoes designed to represent some broadly topical footwear-related items across time and space covered by our period.” Anyone entering the Pent room halted in awe and just had to come take a closer look at Robert’s amazing, and amazingly colorful, Roving Shoe Show!
But the one entry that brings home the cheese, pun totally intended? That was “that amazing kid’s cooking entry from the last in person pent.” Indeed, Cornelia won our hearts by appealing to our stomachs with her wonderful medieval mac & cheese. She says that she was excited to win, and nervous during the judging. But then, aren’t we all!
Want to learn more about entering the Passing of the Ice Dragon Arts & Sciences Pentathlon? Check the website here. Anyone can enter, and if you are not sure you can enter your cool and unusual project, just shoot Pent Coordinator Cori an email – she’d love to hear from you!
Yours in service,