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A Day at Faire

A behind-the-scenes look at what it is really like to sell jewelry at a Renaissance Faire
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photo by Juli McCarthy

Facet welcomes back Juli McCarthy, the owner of Mockingbird Studio, to share with us her experience as a vendor selling jewelry at a Renaissance Faire. Be sure to check out Part One, 16th Century Business in the 21st Century, where she explains the ins and outs of actually becoming a vendor.

As I mentioned, for patrons, a day at the Renaissance Faire is a day of fantasy and escape from the mundane; a chance to go back in time and explore the history of the era without having to actually contract the plague. They can enjoy the music, comedy, adventure, and theater; the food and drink; and shop 'til they drop. But before the opening day cannons go off, the bells start ringing, and the shout of "OPEN WIDE THE GATES" echoes through the faire site, a cast and crew of several hundred people has been hard at work for months. For those of us who make and sell handcrafted items at faires, it can be a full-time, year-round job.

Renaissance Faire patrons come from all walks of life, but they are all looking for a day of fun. As a merchant, you can go one of two ways: you can simply run your business and sell your work, or you can jump in to the spirit of things. When a patron enters your shop, they are essentially turning their backs on the entertainment. If you can help them to continue the fun within the confines of your shop, you keep the boundary between fun and business blurry, and become part of the show. In my experience, patrons prefer this approach. They paid a lot of money to come to the faire today, and they came to play. So play!

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photo courtesy of Juli McCarthy

When patrons of the faire speak to me, they are speaking to a woman from the 16th Century. I speak of the Queen and her courtiers and attendants as though they are a real fact of my everyday existence. I do not discuss contemporary times with patrons. I tell patrons that I will happily accept their Master Card, their Mistress Visa, or their New World Express payments. I refer to sales tax as "Her Majesty's share."

When I need to use my smartphone to run a credit card, I refer to the process as "consulting the Oracle." I say "indeed" or "tis well" instead of "OK," and "Gramercy" in lieu of "thanks." By maintaining this character during transactions, I help keep the patron in the mood of the faire, and make their fantasy seem more real. This invariably results in a happier patron, and quite frankly, happy patrons spend more money than crabby ones!

Juli's Touchstone Pendants, on display at her year-round shop, Maiden Bedlam, in Elgin, IL. 
photo by Kathryn Keil

In my own case, the jewelry medium in which I work -- polymer clay -- is NOT accurate to the period, However, the methods I use to make my jewelry are drawn from methods that were used during the Renaissance, including ceramics, glasswork, leather work, bead work, and more. I am able to explain to patrons the methods I use, and tie them to the time period. Many artists do demonstrations or educational presentations of their work. Some faires require it.

My actual favorite thing ever is when patrons return to my shop a year or so after they make a purchase, and tell me how much they are still enjoying the pieces they purchased from me. The rewards of selling handcrafted jewelry at Renaissance Faires are many, and though it may require a considerable investment of time and money, these things are very quickly outweighed by the delight when a patron selects a piece of your work and treasures it. 
FIND MORE: polymer clay

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