I believe that armor is, at base, an important, romantic medieval craft. Like all crafts, it takes technical skill and artistic merit to create a quality piece. Other re-enactment societies provide a rich market for fledgling armoires to earn their wings; without these markets, most craftsmen would never progress beyond the occasional hobbyist level. But there is a demand, both by collectors and experienced re-enactors, for arms, armor and accouterment that transcends sporting equipment and approaches something we might call “authentic”. To create a piece of armor that strikes the balance between form and function and stay within medieval design elements is difficult.
The vast majority of armor now made by ‘reproduction’ armoires is, unfortunately, sporting equipment. Some armoires do grow, however. In order to grow, they must learn the elements of style that define the periods in which they wish to work, perfecting their hammer and their eye simultaneously. The hammer is by far and away the easier thing to learn. But with perseverance and the willingness to look critically at personal projects, the armoire can refine his eye. The best way to do this is to make exact reproductions, graduating to the next level, the creation of a new piece within a period style.
To qualify, all elements of the piece must adhere to this style. Beyond the craft is the art of armoring. Most armor now made is equipment; some is crafted well, and a small percentage transcends the craft reality to become art. Art must, to my mind, communicate clearly to an audience. The greater the art, the more universal the message.
For the armoire, to strive for art is to connect the mechanical defense with the spirit of chivalry. To reach this spirit, I believe the armoire must fight; they must use the armor and participate and understand the mechanisms that motivate combatants on the field. They must strive to understand the ideals if they are to add that ‘spark’ that separates art from fine craft. Thornbird Arms was the company started in 1984 to expand abilities with the hammer and to try to extend the opportunity to others. Most of them were crude by my current knowledge, but we strove in a heartfelt way to improve the quality of equipment available to re-enactors so that they could, in turn, bring a more authentic feel to the tournament field.
Several talented armoires came to work at the armory during those years, most notably Luke Apker, Greg Woznak, and Ladislav Kuzela. Luke ‘got the picture’ very quickly, fast becoming perhaps the finest hammerman I have seen. Greg–‘Woz’ to most of us–could polish clear through the armour, producing mirrors from hammer-scaled plate. Ladislav started young but grew in maturity, striving with a purity of heart that kept him on the slow path towards excellence. There is something truly magical in creating a connection to the chivalric ideals from a flat, cold piece of steel.