Q&A: Francesca de Onorati Talks About Middle Ages Re-Creationist Event

Local librarian and North Canton resident Norma Storms (known in her Middle Ages re-creationist group as Francesca de Onorati) talks to us about the Masque of Courtly Love, which takes place Saturday

Did you know there's a local Middle Ages re-creationist group for not only North Canton residents, but those in Stark, Tuscarawas and Carroll counties?

The group, Alderford, will host the Masque of Courtly Love XVI at Grace United Methodist Church in North Canton Saturday. Spectators are welcome (as long as they make an attempt to dress in period garb).

Norma Storms, a North Canton resident and librarian at the Stark County District Library, sat down with North Canton Patch over a cup of coffee at the Washington Square Starbucks to talk about the group and upcoming event.

Storms — the group's "seneschal" or president — jokes about re-creating the Middle Ages without the plague and with indoor plumbing and shared a lot of information about what all is involved in the group, which is part of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

North Canton Patch: So, tell me about the group and what you guys do.

Norma Storms: We’re a historical re-creation group that does the Middle Ages from 500 till the death of Elizabeth in 1601. We do research on clothing, persona, development, what people would have done in everyday life, how they made things like stained glass, how they built things with woodworking, what they ate. There are existent recipe books that we take and translate and we make the recipes.

North Canton Patch: This makes me curious if you’re ever called on as a resource because of your knowledge of the Middle Ages?

Storms: We’re a 501c3 group, so we’re an educational-based group. We’ve done demos for the libraries, at Atwood (Ohio) and we used to do demos at Pegasus Farm in Hartville. We’re usually in the Louisville Parade in September for their celebration week. We’ve done demos for them, too. When I say “demo,” I mean the guys will put on their armor and we’ll set up a little area and they’ll beat on each other for a while. We also have weavers and spinners and we have people who do glass beads. Unfortunately, you can’t show some of the arts like the brewing and vintening (wine making) because of the health regulations.

North Canton Patch: What’s your role in the group?

Storms: My focus is on food. I also do costuming. I also do what’s called vintening, even though it’s not really working with wines because what I do is cordials, which is basically flavored liqueur.

North Canton Patch: And you learn to do all these things from your research?

Storms: Yes, and people have shown us how to do a lot of these things, too. A lot of it is our own research. Being a reference librarian gives me a little bit of an edge.

North Canton Patch: How many commitments do you usually have throughout the year as a group?

Storms: We usually do at least five or six demos a year, sometimes more. One of the classes in Louisville had us come in one day a week for a month. We also have a retired teacher in our group who spearheaded that.

North Canton Patch: How do people learn about the group?

Storms: It’s word of mouth. We have business cards and we use community bulletin boards. We currently have a great recruiter and he talks us up wherever he goes. We did have fliers up in the library for a while, and it’s probably about time we do that again. If they see us at something, a lot of times we get people interested through that. And a lot of the time it’s people we just drag in with us or somebody will come into the library and they want to do research on something and I’ll say, “Do you know about …”

We are a legitimate group. There’s 30,000 of us worldwide and about 30 in our local group.

North Canton Patch: Is your particular group just for Stark County, or is it more regional?

Storms: The local group, which is Alderford, is for Stark, Tuscarawas and Carroll counties.

North Canton Patch: Is it safe to say you guys are always looking for new members and new opportunities to speak to people?

Storms: Yes. The only bad time to ask us to to do a demo is at the end of July and the first part of August because there are “regional wars.” There are 19 kingdoms in the world; you’re currently sitting in the Middle Kingdom. The group was founded back in 1966 in California. It was a bunch of history and science fiction geeks, many of whom are authors whose names you would recognize. The West Kingdom was the first kingdom, then a few years later came the East Kingdom, which is the New York City area, and eventually came the Middle Kingdom. There are actually groups that are on some of the aircraft carriers.

North Canton Patch: Can you tell me more about the regional war?

Storms: Pennsic is where the Middle Kingdom usually fights the East Kingdom for, well, it used to be control of Pittsburgh. Now I think the loser gets Pittsburgh.

The really funny thing is the Middle Kingdom at one point sent an arrow with a message to the East Kingdom asking them to start a war, and one man actually moved to the East Kingdom and answered himself and started a war with both sides. Anyway, Pennsic is something that’s done once a year. It’s two weeks long, and there’s of fighting and a lot of classes. It goes from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and has anything you’d ever want to know about anything in the Middle Ages. The opportunity to learn stuff is absolutely incredible.

North Canton Patch: Can you tell me more about the “fighting” that the group does?

Storms: They don’t use real weapons. They use rattan wrapped in duct tape. It simulates the weight of a real sword but it’s less likely to do damage, and we’re very safety conscious. Before you fight you have to have your armor inspected, your weapons inspected. It’s the same with our rapier and archery folks. There have been more accidents dancing than I think on the fighters’ field.

North Canton Patch: What’s going on with the Masque of Courtly Love event this weekend in North Canton?

Storms: This is what’s called a day event. It starts at 9 o’clock in the morning and it’ll go until about 9 o’clock at night at Grace United Methodist Church. We have a lot of activities going on. There are classes from 10 a.m. to 4. There’s a bardic challenge. It could be music, poetry or a story based on a theme, which this year is to come up with the best venue to describe something that would be “coming of age” for your period of time. Classes are anything from kumihimo (which is Japanese braiding), soap making, dancing, period games and combat archery (which is a make-and-take session).

We have heavy fighters, fencers, a tourney for each one of them and whoever wins the tourney gets a prize. There’s a feast, which includes pork loin in spices and wine, beef stew and pear pie. There’ll be dancing and a masked ball after dinner. And we have the kingdom king and queen coming down from the Cleveland area.

North Canton Patch: Is this event for spectators, too, or is this just for the group?

Storms: Spectators can come, but the only caveat is they have to make an attempt at period garb.

North Canton Patch: Where’s a good place to look for period garb ideas?

Storms: There’s a link to costuming information on the Stark County District Library’s website. The only reason I know it’s there is because it’s mine. It’s one of the things I do at the library.

North Canton Patch: What keeps you interested in the group?

Storms: A lot of my friends are there. And I enjoy cooking for people. This Masque event is us throwing a party, basically. We want people to have a good time. I just like the camaraderie. There's good people in this group, and people you might not necessarily meet otherwise.


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