True Renaissance Man from Maryland Heights Demonstrates Crafts at St. Louis Renaissance Faire
The 2011 St. Louis Renaissance Faire season is getting underway, and one Maryland Heights resident will be woodworking at the festival.
He was lethal from the waist down. The brass handled razor sharp saber resting on his hip could take a man’s arm off. His throwing axe was so sharp the blade cut through part of its own sheath. A handmade metal banded mallet designed for splitting wood could work equally well on a man’s head. In a pinch, he could easily strangle a man with his thick leather belt.
In the 17th century, he would’ve been terrifying.
“It’s a fun costume,” said Justin Banner. “Technically speaking, I’m not a pirate. I’m a private guard who works for a shipline owner guarding his business interests. I’m a freelancer. Not that anyone would’ve used that word in the 17th century. They might call me a henchman.”
Banner has a twinkle in his eye as he talks about the advantages of being a henchman.
“Pirates are pure role play. No one cares about the history. You can get away with anything. Nobility had their strict rules about what was appropriate. Peasantry had different strict rules at the bottom of the food chain," he said. "If you’re a pirate, you’re drunk half the time, you’re wenching, you’re going out and having a good time. Okay, that’s the romanticized version because really, having scurvy isn’t very fun or very sexy, but it’s all about playing around doing whatever you want because the rules don’t apply to you when you’re an outlaw.”
Six years ago Banner began volunteering at the St. Louis Renaissance Festival and then later at the related St. Louis Pirate Festival. He sews his own period authentic costumes, sells leathergoods and woodworking and demonstrates period crafting with so much attention to detail he was asked to create a framework for other demonstrators to help them learn how to teach their crafts to the public.
All this was an accident. A group of friends stopped by the Warrenton Outlet Mall on the way back from a road trip to a computer auction in Columbia, Missouri. One of them spotted a flyer for the Renaissance Faire, so they stopped by for fun.
Around Christmas, another friend asked him some questions about the Faire, so he went online to see if he could find the answers. Instead, he found a link to an open house that weekend. He stopped by out of curiosity and left a new Renaissance Faire volunteer.
By day, Banner is an apprentice jeweler with ambitions to eventually design and create his own objects of beauty as a custom jeweler. By night, Banner describes himself as a Mad Scientist.
“I took my dad’s drill apart when I was a kid.” He laughed. “It worked when I put it back together.”
Understanding how an object works and designing a better version has always come naturally to Banner. His home office is packed with creations like a fully functional black powder pistol he assembled from parts after artistically carving the handle to perfectly match his grip.
“I love making stuff for the sheer joy of making it. Call it stress release, passion or just a hobby,” said Banner.
Banner laughed when asked if there was anything he couldn't make.
“Before I joined the Ren Faire, a friend called me up one day and said ‘Hey Justin, I need you to make me some chain mail.’ I thought he was talking about in a video game, so I said sure," he said. "Then I found out he meant real chain mail armor, so I learned how to make it.”
This year he’s demonstrating woodworking as a peasant craftsman at the St. Louis Renaissance Faire and joining in staged gun battles as a pirate henchman at the St. Louis Pirate Festival. When asked where he expects his passions for history and craftsmanship to take him next, he nodded toward the Steampunk static electricity generator sitting in his office and chuckled.
“I am a Mad Scientist,” he said.