Last weekend, I went out to Norman’s Medieval Fair because I’ve been super behind on deadlines for my multimedia newsgathering class. I ended up meeting a lot of people who love the fair and had great stories to tell about it, so here’s my final story:
Amid the chaotic noise of Norman’s annual Medieval Fair — bagpipes blasting a traditional tune, crowds cheering on a troupe of knife-bearing acrobats, belly dancers’ skirts jingling to the steady, deep thrum of a band of hand-drums — Lyda Major-Sweet operates a quiet shop, her little oasis in the shade of a pop-up tent.
The baubles she sells show off skills she’s picked up along a lifetime of experiences. She learned to knot covers for wine bottles during her time in the Navy. Her glass etchings, intricately detailed trees and flowers on tiny clear vases, were born out of careful attention paid to lessons she taught as a substitute art teacher.
For 12 years, Major-Sweet has worked as a vendor at the Medieval Fair, a free, three-day yearly congregation of costumed fairgoers and performers to go back in time to the Renaissance era. Before that, she attended the fair as a participant when she was an OU student, and she’s seen firsthand how the fair has grown.
“I used to attend when it was at the Duck Pond, just as a participant, and I’d watch the jugglers and the sword-swallowers, and I’d go to all the booths and make all the purchases I could as a student of OU,” Major-Sweet said. “Once it came over here, there were just three or four main rows and that was all. It’s gotten huger and huger.”
The Medieval Fair was initially held on the South Oval when it began in 1977 as part of OU’s English department. After outgrowing that space and then outgrowing the Duck Pond, the fair moved to Reaves Park in 2003.
Robin Smith, a lifelong Norman resident, has seen the same growth Major-Sweet described. Now 28, she attends the fair every year, all the way back to when her parents would bring her in a stroller.
Smith doesn’t sell anything at the fair, nor is she a performer. Dressed in an Elizabethan-style gown with her red curls twisted into a Renaissance-style updo, she prefers to simply take in the atmosphere of the fairgrounds.
“I like to wander on my own and just enjoy the atmosphere — the music and the smells and the costumes,” Smith said. “There was a lovely mix of some kind of fragrant smoke from one booth, and something cooking in another booth.”
Not all attendees have been coming to the fair all their life, however. OU classical languages junior Trysta Kershner, sporting a newly acquired archer’s hat, came to the fair for her first time on Saturday.
“We went to see the storyteller, Brother Donald. He’s awesome,” Kershner said. “We saw some performers, and someone had a dulcimer. It sounds majestic.”
As the largest weekend event held in the state, according to the fair’s website, the renaissance festival has a wide draw, attracting plenty of attendees from outside of Norman. Ryan Thompson and Alissa Moore, both from Ada, Oklahoma, made the hour trek to see the fair for their first time, and Thompson was surprised by the turnout.
“There’s a lot more people here than I thought there’d be,” Thompson, a 20-year-old Seminole State College student, said.
For new attendees and ones who’ve been fairgoers all their lives, Major-Sweet said the fair offers something for everyone — whether that’s axe throwing, watching a jousting match, painting ceramics or just casual shopping.
“I’ve seen everybody here from cowboys to storm troopers from Star Wars. I’m serious,” Major-Sweet said. “Men have just as much fun here as women do — there’s something for everybody. The best part — it’s free to the public.”
As a vendor, Major-Sweet loves helping customers find something special from her haberdashery of a shop.
“It’s wonderful to see something that you’ve made walk past you,” she said. “It’s neat matching up the perfect item with somebody. It’s a very satisfying feeling for all of us.”
Aside from the joy of seeing someone wearing cloak or a piece of jewelry at the fair, Major-Sweet said her favorite part of the fair is the wide range of people who can enjoy it.
“The part that I love the most — I’m Chinese, black and white, and this is the one place where I see more ethnicities than anywhere else. Everyone comes.”