Ellen Kostewicz is a realtor and mother of two. But at Gainesville’s Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, she’s Lady Eleanor — a Victorian-era vampire in a hoop dress made of black silk and intricate lace.
Kostewicz, 53, said she and her family have attended the fair for 11 years, but she did not dress up until recently. Last year she was a jester. Next year she wants to be a healing witch.
“I used to dress my children and my husband every year, and I’d make their costumes,” she said. “They were like, ‘Mommy, why don’t you dress up too?’ And I’m like, ‘You know, why not?’”
Kostewicz was one of thousands of people who were dressed up like kings, queens, elves, orcs and magicians at the seven-day Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, which runs from Jan. 18 to Feb. 2 on weekends and one Friday.
This year is the event’s 34th anniversary and the first year Gainesville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department added a third weekend to help with overcrowding. Over 6,000 people attend per day, and about 40,000 will likely attend before the fair is over, event coordinator Sunshine Andrei said.
All of it cost $400,000, which comes from Hoggetowne ticket sales and participant fees, Andrei added.
Guests roamed around a clearing in the woods near the Gainesville Regional Airport to visit the tents of more than 160 merchants and craftsmen selling everything from glass figures to swords and pop-up shops offering fried pickles, mini doughnuts and other fair staples.
Other events were set up near the tents, including horseback jousting and “battle chess,” a life-sized game of chess where people act as the pieces and play-fight to claim spots.
Entertainers wandered the streets of Hoggetowne, some on stilts and others on foot. George O’Brien walked around in boots and draping pants as he controlled a fluffy brown marionette puppet with a long neck, two feet, and an oval head.
The marionette was named Treeleg, a 950-year-old dog from Venus, O’Brien, 51, explained. Its lower jaw was made of a coconut shell, its golden eyes were harvested from a teddy bear and its circular feet were carved out of cypress wood to create a clopping effect, he said.
O’Brien co-founded Dragonbox Theatre, a Gainesville company that teaches people the art of puppetry, two years ago. This was his sixth year entertaining at Hoggetowne, a gig he enjoys because it teaches children how to use their imaginations, he said.
“You get to see a lot of crafts, ancient crafts like puppetry,” he said. “People are so used to seeing computer-animated CGI, they forget that there was an ancient craft. This is thousands and thousands of years old.”
Puppetry wasn’t the only ancient craft presented at the fair. Pieces of wood carved into detailed forest nymph faces sat in another tent, where T.J. Kleens, 44, sat behind the till and sketched a mountain on a piece of paper.
This was Kleens’ first time selling his products at Hoggetowne, but he’s been whittling at wood with electric carving tools for seven years, he said.
Some of Kleens’ carvings take years to complete — he once let crape myrtle wood age outside for a year and a half and brought it inside to dry for six months before starting to carve it, he said.
“Put yourself on the clock and all you do is rush,” he said. “So don’t rush. Take your time with it. You have to enjoy the process.”
Gainesville resident Samantha Styma, 17, just wanted to see a medieval fair before she leaves for college. But she found herself admiring clothing from different eras and cultures that the eventgoers and entertainers wore and said she wants to come back.
“I feel like this is something everyone should check out at least once,” Styma said. “It’s just a cool kind of thing to experience. Maybe you’ll find something you didn’t know you would enjoy.”
Contact Hope Dean at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @hope_m_dean.
Thieves Guilde actors Sierra Barnier, 18, and Kevin Otero, 24, perform a choreographed sword fight during a chess game.
Cody Ward, a 29-year-old actor with volunteer acting troupe Thieves Guilde, brandishes a sword to play-fight an opponent during a life-sized game of chess at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.
A Hoggetowne Medieval Faire participant dressed as a dragon wanders through the merchant tents.
Thieves Guilde actor Ellie Smith, 18, looks down at the chessboard from a prop castle.