Kage Baker was an artist. Well, yes, Dear Readers may well say – tell us something we didn’t know. But Kage did not consider herself an artist. Of all the things she did, art was one she felt she had put aside as a thing of childhood – putting, in its place, writing and acting and general world-building.
She painted for years: water colours and inks, mostly; she loved the transparent colours of inks. She loved calligraphy and fancy lettering, steel nibs and tiny brushes and gold leaf. She illustrated a lot of her own stories in her teenaged years – she eventually developed a cartoon-like style that would fit right into anime today, had she pursued it. But she stopped painting in her early 30’s. She had been writing more and more, and that was when she got serious about it – so all the sketch pads went into storage.
Her urge to sketch went into set design – for the Renaissance Faire, for the Dickens Christmas Fair, for various one-off events we’d show up and do for a weekend here and there. (She designed a pirate pawnshop in a tent for a pirate festival one summer; that was neat.) Her Tudor Inn set is in pieces in a warehouse on Mare Island, but could spring again to life at the first hint that our favourite production company would put on another Renaissance event.
And, of course, we are even now working on the Dickens Christmas Fair set. The Parlour of the Green Man has traveled through many, many minds and hands to achieve life: but it started as a picture in Kage Baker’s imagination. I don’t think we have quite produced what she visualized – we’re not steampunk enough, and I don’t let the bar staff mount Gatling guns on the bar. We don’t really go up the 7 stories she calculated we needed to actually hold all the stuff we say we do (the Pickwick Club keeps rooms with us, and I think there is a private dock off the cellar) but we are bigger on the inside than the out.
You can see it happen as we build, space/time warping to provide us with a larger interior than exterior. When we first arrive in the Cow Palace, and find our designated patch of asphalt – I stand in the center and usually wail, “Oh my God, we shrank! I’ve lost 15 feet! Someone stole part of my footage!” This is both untrue and immediately verifiable, as my clever minions mark our corners on the floor with paint each year. So they ignore my hysterics (which are also being duplicated in every other space in the Cow Palace, by every other director) and proceed to raise our walls.
And that’s when the fabric of the Universe convolutes itself, like a chambered nautilus turning inside out.
With every panel of wall, the space inside expands. When the fireplace goes in the corner, that corner obligingly retreats 10 feet; when the chandelier is hung, the ceiling rises into space, and the ghosts of our other 6 stories appear mistily through the spot lights. And as soon as the furniture arrives, the single plain space becomes three or four rooms, all separated by plush chairs and screens of firm make-believe.
Kage loved this miracle. She watched it every year in childish delight, as if it were happening without her participation or design: a magic trick produced for her especial delectation. Bit by bit, this room in her brain expanded past the confines of her skull until – like a Klein bottle – it contained her. Each year’s subtle differences and changes were just natural evolution, the proper alterations of a living space. She’d look around when it was all finsihed, and sigh, and say, “Well, here we are again.”
This year has the biggest change to date. Kage is not there. But the space between the green walls does contain some pale spirit flame, that is her memory. Like the 6 stories above us, where the Pickwick Club is ordering another bowl of punch; like the secret panels in the walls, where Lords of Faerie and lost chimney sweeps are likely to be lurking; like the submarine in the cellar, bringing us a smuggled shipment of rare wines.
Bigger on the inside, you see.
Tomorrow: supporting the arts