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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton medieval club gives students opportunity to live history

Jan 03, 2022 02:27PM ● By Julie Slama

Medieval club president junior Lily Watson and ninth-grader Aleah Spencerwise demonstrate youth training to other Brighton High medieval club members. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Eleventh-grader Bridget Madsen likes practicing her Viking knitting.

It isn’t done with two needles and yarn, but rather a technique weaving circular fine-gauge metal wire that forms a loop and can be stretched into jewelry, often associated with the medieval times.

Madsen and others learned the technique while participating in Brighton High’s medieval club, where they don’t just study the time period, but rather have hands-on opportunities to be engaged in their learning of various medieval arts, crafts and trade skills.

For example, a club meeting may feature experiencing first-hand medieval games and forms of recreation or it could be a time when students are learning how to cut, polish and fit stones to make replicas of medieval jewelry. Students could learn how to cook authentic dishes, sing time-period songs or learn how to make lace. 

Already this year, club members learned to bind their own books with leather covers and then, made ink from walnuts and cut their own quills from feathers. Some even took another step to learn basic calligraphy to write in their books. 

“Students choose their lessons from a wide range of possibilities and then I arrange the supplies and lessons and let the student have fun with it,” said adviser Albert Spencerwise, who himself is part of Salt Lake City’s chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group who regularly holds medieval events throughout the region and sponsors the school club. “I may teach the skill to one student and then, they can teach others, like an apprentice model, and if I don’t know the skill well enough, then we bring in visiting artists who are knowledgeable.”

This is the medieval club’s third year at Brighton. Spencerwise, who taught at Alta before coming to Brighton, began that club 10 years ago and said his initial group is still meeting.

“I love history and I love that it is live history,” he said. “I’ve had two sewing machines donated so we can make our own costumes. We can learn medieval chess where an elephant can move three spaces diagonally and the rook is the most powerful piece and even make our own chess pieces. There’s just so much to learn and so much camaraderie. Members in the SCA tend to be former military or educational geeks worldwide, and I’m both, so it gives us a chance to nerd out together.”

While many of the students have talked to Spencerwise about learning medieval youth training, which he has taught both youth and adults for 25 years, he said that is something he said they can pursue through the SCA. 

Recently, his daughter, Aleah Spencerwise, and club president junior Lily Watson demonstrated it to the club.

It was a new skill to Watson, who said through the club she has also learned book binding and color dyeing with dandelions.

“I’ve also learned a lot of management skills as club president and learned to take a project from start to finish,” Watson said.

And many of those skills she has learned have translated to the classroom, she said. 

“We’ve learned the history while actually doing the history,” Watson said, adding that it has helped her understand her AP European history better.

Ninth-grader Aleah, who said she was “born into this,” since her family back to her grandmother are members and regularly attend events, is happy to share her expertise with other classmates.

“I’m usually the one who’s answering all the questions or bringing in items, like this is what the actual shields look like,” she said. “It’s just fun. It stops becoming school and it is more about I get to teach people about what I do, and I’m always learning new things at every event and sometimes in class. I will learn things I never knew, and I will do more research once I get home because it’s something that I’m like, wait, that’s really neat, and I’ll want to learn more.”

While Aleah likes all the medieval activities and skills she has learned through the years, she said she’s comfortable with the combat fighting since she grew up learning the skill.

“When I first started, I hated doing it, like it was one of my least favorite things to do because what I wanted to do is hang out with friends. Then, I started getting better at it and it became something I enjoyed,” she said, adding that her “whole family coached me on the side.”

Now, she would like to make her own protective clothing.

“A big dream of mine to eventually accomplish is to hand create my own suit of armor,” she said, adding that she can compete in heavy or combat fighting once she turns 16. “Right now, I’m taking my time to figure out what it may look like.”

The best part, for Aleah, of being involved is “making connections with the people I’ve met and gotten to know because of this, both in the SCA and in the medieval club.”

While the club meets on Wednesdays after school, Aleah said she would like to see it grow: “I hope it’s going to expand and become bigger, where people can just come to have fun and forget about the worries of the modern age and just live in this time period.”