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Fantasy in the forest

Festival of Skalds brings Viking-era history to the Angora countryside

Jodi Summit
Posted 8/15/19

ANGORA- “A thousand years ago the Norsemen were here,” said Micah Hodge. Or at least we can imagine.

That was the theme behind the Festival of Skalds, held publicly for the first time this …

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ENTERTAINMENT

Fantasy in the forest

Festival of Skalds brings Viking-era history to the Angora countryside

Aaron Bobeck and his pet dragon puppet “Booger."
Aaron Bobeck and his pet dragon puppet “Booger."
all photos by J. Summit
Posted

ANGORA- “A thousand years ago the Norsemen were here,” said Micah Hodge. Or at least we can imagine.

That was the theme behind the Festival of Skalds, held publicly for the first time this year on land that Hodge and his wife, Jacinda, own in Angora. Even though his family has no Norse ancestry, he said he has always felt a strong Norse presence in this uniquely pastoral portion of northern St. Louis County. And he wanted to re-create what life might have been like at a Norse gathering on the site, 1,000 years ago.

With help from Jacinda and quite a few relatives, they created their small-scale version of a Renaissance festival with a Norse theme. They held the event for family and friends in 2017 and 2018, but decided to open it to the public for the first time this year, for a two-day event held Aug. 10-11.

Micah, an instrument repairman by trade, also produces replica Norse-era weaponry and archery equipment. Jacinda creates leather journal covers, archery quivers and other styles of leatherwork. The couple has been selling their wares at Renaissance Festivals throughout the upper Midwest for seven years, as well as at the Cook Farmers Market on Saturdays in the summer. Three years ago, they started planning to host their own event and started doing some work on their semi-forested 10-acre plot, located about eight miles southwest of Cook.

The timing for the event was tricky, said Micah, who noted it couldn’t coincide with the county fair, or with other Renaissance events where the Hodges sell their wares.

Micah said that several of his nephews, who spent the weekend teaching primitive archery skills, were a huge help in getting the grounds ready over several weekends. They cleared trees and brush, created a parking lot in an old field, and readied for the various booths, entertainment, food vendors, and more. Others helped with some landscaping, creating some fairy garden areas.

“These woods are nice and secluded,” he said. “We want it to feel magical when you walk through.”

The Hodges hope to see the festival grow in future years. Turnout this year was great, they said. And while some did come in period costume, most were just in regular street clothes. Though it did seem that all the children that attended went home with replica knives, axes, or arrows strapped to their waists.

Tales of the Nordic past were an important part of the event. In old Norse culture, a skald was a poet and storyteller. “We want people to know the old stories,” Jacinda said.

Over a dozen artisans, all in period costume, were selling wares at the event. Most were either relatives or friends the Hodges had made at other festivals.

Landrew Olson, along with Lina Olson and Kip Olson, had a blacksmithing forge set up and demonstrated making period tools and weapons.

Rachel King, of Virginia, was selling Renaissance and Medieval-era cloaks and dresses. This was her first time selling her hand-sewn clothing.

“I loved costumes and dressing up when I was a kid,” she said.

Rachel was one of the many relatives of the Hodges taking part in the festival.

Ten-year-old Nathan Ploof, of Angora, was eager to show off his axe-throwing skills, though he admitted his older brother was a better shot than he was. His family was selling throwing axes during the event.

Eleven-year-old Abigail Bobeck, of Lindstrom, was travelling with her sister, father and grandmother, with their replica gypsy wagon. Her father Aaron, a carpenter by trade, was selling his intricate leatherwork shields and other period items, and her grandmother Robin had chainmaille and Viking-themed embroidery work for sale. She first made chainmaille to decorate her sister’s motorcycle leathers, but then got hooked on the craft.

“It’s a lot like quilting,” she said.

“I’ve been a crafter since I was nine,” Robin said, “and after my husband passed away, I asked Aaron to build me a gypsy wagon. Now it’s a real business.” The family does about a half dozen festivals a year. Abigail enjoys dressing up in costume and helping sell the items. She also helps her grandmother with some of the handiwork.

Part of the charm of such festivals is visiting with all the vendors, many of whom stay in character.

Mustafa Ali entertained the crowds with his music. With a look that harkened back to the Arabian Nights folktales, this mystic, poet, and musician played any of dozens of instruments that he had gathered during his travels around the world. His business cards listed his address as “Planet Earth,” and suggested contact is best made with him through telepathy.

RV Hodge, a storyteller by trade, entertained the crowd with his humorous advice on dragon-hunting. Other entertainment included storytellers, Palo’s very own Steve Solkela with his one-man band, and Viking demonstrations.

Two “professional” Vikings demonstrated weaponry and fighting techniques on the grounds. The two, Rav Torsdotter and Fingar Gulbralson, often work at larger Renaissance Festivals including the one in Shakopee.

RV Hodge grew up in Cook, and he and his wife Jennie were back in the area to visit friends and family. Their grown son also came back to visit and was strolling the grounds entertaining visitors with his juggling.

Hodge is a boat-builder in North Carolina, but has also written a series of children’s books.

“This is the first festival we’ve done,” said Jennie.

Six-year-old Elya Perkins, from Ely, was impressed with all she learned at the dragon hunting “class.”.

“Mostly,” she said, “dragons will eat you!”

Elya was pretty sure she had seen red eyes staring out at her from the trees as she and her family were eating lunch.

“I’m pretty sure it was a dragon,” she said.

Elya, not quite keeping with the Viking theme, had asked the face-painter at the mermaid booth to give her a zombie look, so perhaps she scared that dragon back into the woods.

Micah said planning for this year’s event at times was almost a full-time job. Next year they have plans to expand, and each year hope to continue to improve the festival grounds.

Micah and Jacinda’s business is called Iron Ranger Arts.

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