A Cathedral By Night: Photos and History of ShadowClans

Many Pennsic-goers know and admire the beautiful ShadowClans cathedral façade. At Pennsic XXXIV, SCAtoday.net's Publisher, Justin, spent a moonlit evening with Fenris and Pip and his digital camera. Just in time for Pennsic XXXV, we present the photo shoot by Justin and a history of the ShadowClans household by Fenris, one of the founding Elders of the household.

It was a beautiful, clear night with a full moon, and I (Justin) decided to take my new digital camera over to the ShadowClans encampment gate, thinking it would be a great photo-op. Since my household, Erevnite Asteron, is only a stone's throw from ShadowClans, it was a short walk even carrying a tripod and lenses. While Milica and I were enjoying the gate and shooting photos, Pip and Fenris happened by and invited us in for a closer look, then wound up giving us the grand tour of the camp, including a magnificent Middle Eastern pavilion, done in the style a Turkish smoking/coffee house. Fenris and Pip were kind enough to pose for a few photos, allowing me to experiment with the challenging (but also exciting) lighting conditions inside the pavilion.

In addition to the famous gate façade, the ShadowClans household is noted for Tomak's stunning sculptured water fountain displayed at the Midrealm Royal encampment several years ago, for the annual Corn Party, and for organizing the Children's Water Battle that attracts several hundred "munchkins" each year at Pennsic.

The following narrative is an edited version of Fenris' household history, reprinted here by kind permission of the author. Follow the "original article" link at the bottom of the page to see the photo album by Justin. To see the castle for yourself, visit block N33 at Pennsic, just north of the Serengeti.

Fenris recalls the origins of ShadowClans...

Beginnings

ShadowClans had a not-so-unique start. The founders were originally part of another household, and due to differences in goals, viewpoint and direction found themselves returning from Pennsic 24 less than satisfied with the experience.

I [Fenris] had already decided to put together a new house of sorts, but didn't like the standard (or common, but not exclusive) method of operation having a household "head". An earlier concept involved a "pet" area of interest, a Middle-Eastern-influenced group with no absolute governing visage, but after some thought and a brief phone conversation with Johann I decided that a pure Middle Eastern influence would be too constraining for the group as a whole. (The first name incarnation was Shadow Dancers.) It also seemed too "one person". I wanted a gathering of the minds. The things we have come up with over the years are a culmination of the spirits — it's pure magic I say! Plus, at the time you'd NOT have wanted to see any of us try to dance.) Most of us already had made the decision to leave the old group, we just didn't know it yet.

The Idea

The Monday after War, a meeting was called, and the founders (Fenris, Johann, Tomak, Docmo and Arianne) gathered for an evening of "concept and design" at my studio. Their humorous (deemed dark to some) comraderie produced an idea without a name. They wanted "shadow" or something like that. It just felt right. I remember proposing the clan system of management, since the idea was to still maintain an elder system, but allow the freedom to come and go within and outside of political confines to constantly promote artistic expression. Truth be told, nobody always has the best idea, nor is capable of leadership all the time. (The rise and fall of many great civilizations are proof of this.) This system we knew, would work. Surprisingly enough, we still needed 'the' name... THE name. "Hmmm... Shadow... CLANS!" It felt good, it sounded good — heck it even looked good written.

That Eye is EVERYWHERE!

People wonder about "the eye that everyone seems to see everywhere" in our art. In its original form, it was an earlier piece of art that I had done for a friend of mine who had a small business back in 1992. It had the right feel to it, but we didn't want to infringe upon that ground with this, so, Tomak's talents came into play. It's only slightly evolved over the years, mainly to accommodate different media in which it's been rendered. I've always said my original was only slightly forboding, Tomak's is a whole stack of cupcake and over-caffeinated forboding. I remember at the end of the night, while Johann and I sat on my porch there was a brotherly exchange of a tear at the notion of what was taking shape. It's my fondest memory of the last 11 years.

We have seen HELL, and its PINK!

With the groundwork laid out, we knew we only had a year before Pennsic 25. Pennsic 25 was also a big year for War as whole, we knew a first impression was going to be important. The first subject to come up, of course, was a gatehouse. Not just any gatehouse, but one befitting our mutual compulsions to REALLY stand out. I had always (who hasn't) toyed with the idea of a real stone structure. But that would be too heavy, and no matter the amount of Pepsi we imbibe, not feasible. (Yet!) The next best thing was, of course, what could we do to come close? I had a business contact who could provide us with mounds of the next best thing: PINK FOAM. Van loads of it. Now all we needed was to start work on it. We decided then to formally announce our intent and invite people we thought would benefit from this. The next few nights involved getting the details together for the first meeting. Two weeks from then, 36 people in all attended, and our next 9 months of PINK HELL began. If you want to see an interesting look on someones face, ask them how much hot glue, sheets of pink foam insulation and boxes of bandaids it took to make that first keep. It was called "Murkhlurker Keep", by the way.

Detail, detail, detail! We all spent many sleepless nights over that year to prepare for the first showing. If the keep wasn't enough, would you believe a shower project of Docmo's perpetuated the Flaming Eye you all see at our camp? Names have been withheld to thwart embarrassment. (Wait, I already mentioned all of our names, didn't I? Oh well.) Silkscreens made from the shin bones of fallen deercamp comrades? Maybe. We all put a little of ourselves into ShadowClans.

Travels

In 2000 I (Fenris) had to take a leave of absence due to a job offer in Western Michigan. Three years and a shaky fourth later, the drums of War made it to my shores, and the following year I came back with a renewed vigor. While initially my distance separation presented physical and emotional hardships of sorts (where the ShadowClans was concerned — we are family you know), it finally dawned (shadowed?) on me that this is what the ShadowClans is all about. Evolution. I also thought it was about time we started posting our banner over a broad expanse of land. We have always had members from all over the country, and some members moved near me. Johann has always been a strong, charismatic leader and an inspiration. He's also one of the only people physically capable of keeping Tomak at bay with Kit Kats. (Inside joke.)

Rather than constantly place hardship on the "far reachers", ShadowClans West was born. Not a separate entity, but an extension. It's CLANS, remember? You should note that there are still North, South and Outer Space left. Keep watching. The pictures in the latter portion of Justin's album reflect the continuation of my original idea, tailored to fit within the system: Shadow Dance Caravan.

I strongly believe that everyone present then (and to this day) all have a piece of themselves wrapped up in what the ShadowClans was, is, and will be. The many years since inception are proof that when the right minds come together, you can accomplish anything. One of our favorite words is "hospitality". We are only trying to give back in expression what the people we have met over the years have given us. Thank you all.

—Fenris [Elder]

History of ShadowClans is Copyright © 2006 by Fenris, and reprinted here (edited) with his permission.