(there have been a few edits made for clarity)
I’ve been thinking for some time about what the criteria of a laurel are. Mostly because that’s the path that I’m on, and I feel like having a clear-cut goal is a really good thing. A standard that you can reach to feel as if you’ve made it, and be pleased with yourself.
That out of the way, my criteria are simple: could you have made a living, in-period, out of your work. Put another way (thanks, Wolf!) – ‘would people in period spend the money they need on food on what you make/do?’
I am aware that this is perhaps rather strict, and a narrow definition, but hear me out.
(It’s worth noting that in talking with others, particularly who have more experience than I outside this kingdom, that my standards are not as unusual as it may seem. Granted, these discussions occurred afterwards, so it’s more that they’re an interesting side note, instead of something that had bearing on the decision. But it’s nice to know I’m not alone.)
Back to the discussion at hand.
Here in Atenveldt, according to our Order of Precedence, the following are excerpts from the award charter. I’ve removed the parts about behavior and so forth, because for the purposes of this discussion I think that they’re not relevant.
(SCA Corpora VII.A.para 1)
Candidates for any order conferring a Patent of Arms (Peerage) must meet the following minimum criteria…
d. They shall have demonstrated support for the aims and ideals of the Society by being as authentic in dress, equipment and behavior as is within their power.
e. They shall have shared their knowledge and skills with others.
f. They shall have practiced hospitality according to their means and as appropriate to the circumstances.
g. They shall have made every effort to learn and practice those skills desirable at and worthy of a civilized court. To this end they should have some knowledge of a wide range of period forms, including but not limited to literature, dancing, music, heraldry, and chess, and they should have some familiarity with combat as practiced in the Society.
h. They should participate in Society recreations of several aspects of the culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
(SCA Corpora VII.A.para 4b)
A Laurel must have attained the standard of excellence in skill and/or knowledge equal to that of his or her prospective peers in some area of the Arts or Sciences. The Laurel must have applied this skill and/or knowledge for the instruction of members and service to the kingdom to an extent above and beyond that normally expected of members of the Society. Members of the Order of the Laurel may choose to swear fealty, but are not required to do so. The duties of the members of the order are as follows:
(d) To enrich the kingdom by sharing his or her knowledge and skills.
Reading that, I take it as the lowest artistic-level required to be a laurel is that you need to make art better than the standard of what is currently in the kingdom. You’re going to be judged, at least to an extent, against the populace – who would be your peers at the time. As someone I know once pointed out – this means you could pick an obscure discipline and be the only person who works in it. You may have an easier time in that there isn’t anyone to compare yourself to. But it does also mean that there is less common-knowledge to compare yourself against. Instead, you’ll be looking at your own progress. This is something that I probably will contemplate later, so keep an eye out.
What I think that there should be is a common baseline to a potential laurel’s work that takes more into account the period in which it would have existed and how the artisan would have lived. While members of the laurel will vary widely in the skills that brought them to the circle – in a way that knights or pelicans don’t – there should certainly be a common and established level for them to be at in order to be considered because there is so much variety in the arts that call to people. Those who pick more common disciplines – like clothing, for example – have a different set of extant materials that their work can be compared again.
Which brings us back to being able to support oneself. I like this as a basic level of competency for the laurel because anyone can reach that point and it’s a baseline that I think adequately meets the criteria of ‘better than the average artisan’. In addition, it encourages focus on arts that would have existed in period, as well as a burden of documentation or proof for those things that may not be as well-known. Research is going to be key, and a laurel should want to learn more about the art they are working on. Even if one is not entering Arts and Sciences competitions, having the ability to look at your work and say ‘this is the difference from period’ is important. You do not need to be able to support yourself well, you’re not going to be making yourself rich, but you should be able to live and be a contributing member of your community.
And the ability to support yourself ties into something else. If you were handed the appropriate materials within the period you strive to recreate: could you create your art? After all, what good is the idea of being able to support yourself if you only know the tools needed in theory? You don’t have to do all your art in a period fashion, but you should be perfectly capable of doing so. To have an understanding of the differences between what was done then, and what you do now.
I’ll use my husband here – he has his laurel for brewing and tablet weaving. He never entered A&S competitions, and his brewing uses more modern techniques than not. Tablet weaving’s not changed in a very long time, and what was used then could be used now. Research and writing is my thing, not so much his… but he can talk about them in-period. And more importantly – if need-be, he could support himself with those skills. (Probably more the beer than the weaving, but that’s neither here nor there.)
My own interests are a bit different – my final goal, so to speak, is to have the skills that would be equivalent to a tradesman’s wife in Haithabu. This means that I’m able to run a household, and while I may not be able to do everything well, I can still do it. For example, I’ll know how to slaughter animals for food and put on a meal, to process fiber, spin it, and then weave it into fabric.
As artisans, I think that we should constantly be striving for this – because the Society is a medieval recreation group, and dedicated “researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe”. But the difference between a laurel and a regular artisan will be in the consistency to which those standards are applied.