McHenry calligrapher spends weekends as Scribe to the Queen at the Bristol Renaissance Faire
By JAMI KUNZER - firstname.lastname@example.org
During the week, she crafts "Calligraphy by Linda" from the studio in her McHenry home.
On the weekends, she's the "Scribe to the Queen."
Pen in hand, Linda Medeen's red velvet dress swished around her ankles as she greeted her customers.
"Greetings, M'Lady. ... This is my throne," she said as she sat down in a long-backed, velvet trimmed chair outside the shop she and her husband, Vern, built nearly 10 years ago at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Working from a more primitive location at the faire before that, the couple of 21 years has been part of the unique attraction near Kenosha, Wis., for 14 seasons.
Set in a summer day in 1574 when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth visited the English hamlet of Bristol, the faire transforms 30 wooded acres into a world of 16th Century arts, games, food, music, comedy, dance and crafts.
All involved – from the performers to the vendors – become inhabitants of that world. Their clothing, their wares and their words all must represent the 16th Century as more than 200,000 visitors stop by ever summer.
"We really strive to make sure when you step into Bristol, you're truly transported away from the modern world," said Julie McMillin, publicity and social media director for the Faire.
The effort is not taken lightly.
Those involved can even go to classes in June to learn the ways of that 16th Century world. Anyone who attends 40 hours earns 3 hours of college credit, McMillin said.
About 75 percent of the wares sold by the Faire's more than 175 vendors must be homemade. Some of those vendors live at the faire throughout the summer, sleeping in rooms above their shops or in trailers while creating their crafts throughout the week.
The Medeens used to travel throughout the weekends to display their work at craft shows. Recruited by Faire organizers years ago, they now call the "village" home on the weekends.
"We're a family," Linda said of all those involved with the Faire. They take care of one another, help out when someone's sick.
She talked as an artist who goes solely by the name "Bluebeard" painted a rose necklace around her neck.
They met him years ago when he strolled in the back of their shop. He now sleeps in that back room during the summer.
Bluebeard paints Linda's neck every weekend morning, and has done so since he overheard her say she'd like a necklace that stands out.
"Wait till you see the final product," Linda said as Bluebeard finished up with a sprinkle of glitter swished across the paint. "Now I'm his walking advertisement."
Known for the artistry in her handmade notecards and other best-sellers, such as her "Meaning of Names" creations, Linda has created products for the Obamas, Rosie O'Donnell and countless customers across the country.
Her pen-crafted skill still resonates in a world of keys and touch pads.
Her artistry blends with the Faire as smoothly as the ink on paper.
For both her and her customers, it's a throwback to the days of hand-written letters, a reminder to appreciate beauty.
"I'm the most impatient person you'll ever meet," Linda said. "However, when I do calligraphy, I have to slow down. It keeps me focused, relaxed. I like the end look. When I'm done, I can't believe I did it. It turns out so well."
From her throne outside the shop displaying 20 years worth of artwork – hand-crafted prayers, greeting cards and homages to parents, sisters, brothers, children, aunts, uncles, those in the military and others – she greets those passing by.
Red feathers portruding from her hat, she'll ask their names, carefully spell them out on the back of her business cards.
As many as 30,000 people might stop on a single weekend day, she said.
Her husband Vern and assistant Karen Peterson help, with Peterson doing the caligraphy she can't do, such as Gothic lettering. The three rarely leave the shop, although they see plenty from their storefront view.
They point out a man donned in feathers, a Santa Claus, George Washington, the Fairies that pitter patter by daily.
"When it rains, they strip down to their underwear and wash with a bar of soap," Linda said of the many characters at the Faire.
Every afternoon, a parade marches through with the Queen on horseback.
Their favorite is the Lady of the Court bringing up the rear, they say. Her teeth missing, she's dressed in rags.
Someone always will ask, "Are you the queen?"
"No," she'll answer. "She's up there on her high horse."
His hair and beard painted green for "luck" or "envy," depending on when you ask him, Vern wears pointy black shoes and a hat with a worm-eating crow stationed on top.
"Some people call me an elf," he said with a smile. "Some people call me a fool."
A mechanic by trade, he sold his equipment when Linda's business took off and she needed extra hands.
"The hardest part of the Faire is getting ready for it every week," Linda said.
During the week, the couple returns to their "children" – two dogs, two cats and occasional pregnant dog they foster through an animal shelter – and their everyday existence.
Bristol has become their summer escape, a place close to home, but far away at the same time.
"This is not work for us," Linda said. "This is our pleasure."
The Bristol basics
The Bristol Renaissance Faire is set in a summer day in 1574 when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth visited the English hamlet of Bristol.
Open rain or shine 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 2 and on Labor Day Monday, Sept. 3.
Located on 30 wooded acres, just west of I-94's Russell Road exit, near Kenosha, Wis.
Tickets cost $19.95 for adults and $9.50 for children ages 5 to 12. Advance ticket discounts available at renfair.com or by calling (847) 395-7773.
For information on "Calligraphy by Linda," visit www.lindamedeenscalligraphy.com.
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