Phyllis Patterson: May 18, 2014

Kage Baker credited a good part of her inspiration and writing career to a lady named Phyllis Patterson.

Phyllis herself demurred, assuring Kage that all she, Phyllis, had done was create an opportunity for Kage to find out what was inside herself. For Phyllis Patterson, the ability to create that opportunity, that setting, that entire world that could nurture people like Kage and a thousand other creative minds, apparently seemed obvious. Simple. Easy.

It wasn’t. But Phyllis was a fountain, a bottomless spring of ideas that she poured out for the world like Magna Mater and the Ocean-Sea combined; she was the source of a flood of creative power that changed the structure of the world for thousands and thousands of people. She called herself, modestly, Chief Instigator – but what she was, at her best, was the voice of the Goddess of creation, alive and walking among Her sons and daughters.

Phyllis Patterson created the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

Not just any Renaissance Faire – she created the first. The original. All the thousands of faires that have sprung up in its image over the last half-century rise directly from the minds of Phyllis Patterson and her late husband, Ron. And whoever you are – whether you go to the RenFaire for too much beer and exotically revealed tits, or are an intellectual who dismisses the rout and panoply with a sniff – I dare you to deny that the idea has NOT changed the artistic, cultural and historical face of America. And if you do deny it, you are flat-out a liar.

If you, Dear Readers, were ever a happy patron buying a ticket at a gate, you owe that happy afternoon of make-believe to Phyllis. And if you were ever a participant – anywhere, really, but most especially at her own Faires here in the dreamland of California – then you spent your time wading breast-high through the shining waves of her imagination.

Phyllis Patterson created the Faire, and the Faire re-energized the crafts movement in America. All those people who worked in ancient arts like glass-blowing, enamel, every variety of smithing, any hand-done works, ad infinitum … the Faire was where they first began to sell their exotic goods again. Leatherworkers, embroiderers, armourers, spinners and weavers and dyers and people who made risque codpieces and wooden toys and natural cosmetics: all of it. It came out of garages and crafts classes full of middle-aged ladies and struck a pose in the middle of the road, crying See me! And Phyllis gave it a place to be.

Historical re-creation owes a huge part of its existence to the Faire, and to the precepts of authenticity Phyllis encouraged. (Sometimes she regretted it, I think – some of us got pretty obsessive about  it …) Without historical re-enactors, with all their psychotically correct gear and clothes, the History Channel at least would lose most of its extras for all those shows on everything from Roman soldiers to the American Civil War – and Phyllis’ mark is on that.

The extremely clever gentleman who runs the re-enactments for the Tower of London, the ever-exquisite Mark Wallis (Hello, Mark!) had his copious natural talents and inclinations honed and encouraged through his years-long association with the Renaissance Faire. Oh, how I remember him shining in the sun, the most resplendent Raleigh ever! I remember him and Kevin Brown  (who was then splendidly Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) conferring over Phyllis’s head in the shade of the oaks. Now Kevin and Phyllis are both gone on ahead, into the Uttermost West …

Kage and I joined this moveable feast and annual insane asylum when we were 19 and 20. We walked into Faerieland and never, ever came back again; nor wanted to.  It was Goblin Market and we were home. The stories were already sizzling and capering in Kage’s head – but it was at Faire that they took shape and life.

She wrote behind stages, where she managed African dancers, and magicians, and the troupe of loonies who became The Reduced Shakespeare Company; under the oaks and bay trees and jewel-coloured burlap sunshades. By lantern light in inn yards. By flashlight on busses racing along I-5  in the dark, while a shaum player serenaded her with Beatles’ songs. When she was home, that home was decorated (and usually awash) in props and costumes from the Faire. And among the improbable, fantastic and frankly demented denizens of the place, Kage found her Operatives.

Shakespeare, of course, had something to say about that:

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

It was our habitation; they were our names.

So, Phyllis, my very dear Lady, you were wrong. Just a little … Kage did indeed owe you thanks for the world you created and let the rest of us run wild in. So do I. So do the thousands and thousands of others, who came for a shining day or for the rest of their lives, and found their hearts under the oaks. You stand forever on a hay bale in the light sieved through a roof of bright-dyed burlap, arms spread wide and welcoming, bidding us all to come and make merry – merry, and love, and a richer, deeper life than was ever found anywhere outside one of Shakespeare’s plays.

It’s why Kage dedicated one of her novels to Phyllis –

This book is dedicated to Phyllis Patterson,
Instigator, with respect and affection;
And to the village she founded under the oak trees
And to its people. Et in Arcadio ego.

Et in Arcadio ego. Once I dwelt in Arcadia …





About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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24 Responses to Phyllis Patterson: May 18, 2014

  1. johnbrownson says:

    Teary again, as I have been, much of the day. I was doing fine until, “You stand forever on a hay bale in the light sieved through a roof of bright-dyed burlap, arms spread wide and welcoming”.
    The image, perfect; the emotion, almost unbearable. Something in my life feels broken today, but it’s really just a part of the whole. We enter, we strut our stuff, we exit, right, to a patter of applause if we’re lucky. Not Phyllis, though. I see an immense amphitheater, filled with thousands- no, millions- of people, rising as one to cheer and gratefully applaud. As I wrote elsewhere, we were just a dream she dreamed one afternoon, long ago. Still are, dammit! The song goes on.


  2. Tala says:

    Reblogged this on Tala's Tracks and commented:
    Beautifully written thoughts on Phyllis…


  3. Mike Young says:

    The lives she touch, the lives she enhanced.
    Phyllis has many many many heartfelt thanks to receive. What she did in life was a miracle.

    “A Dominum factum est illud, et est mirabile in oculis notris”


  4. Luisa Puig says:

    Perfect, Kathleen. You nailed it again, M’Dear. Bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mark says:

    The genius of Phyllis was not of discovering the handcraft movement nor joining it to historical reenactment, since both had roots that went back into the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Rather, it was her ability to dream a vision, announce it as the theme for a grand party, gather creative and talented and dedicated and hardworking people, and get to them to buy-into her vision…..and expand it beyond all reason. And to teach others *like yourself* (and myself) to do the same thing. Her backyard party has turned into an industry…and a movement…and an aesthetic…and a lifestyle. And we are the richer for it.

    As someone whose career in living history is based upon what he learned at her venues, I’d not point to the “precepts of authenticity Phyllis encouraged” as my biggest take-away…..but rather the sense of the magic of teaching and learning and play. Phyllis’s tag line (lifted from the Bard) “to trick into learning, with a laugh” has made all the difference. Because there are many historical programs that are more authentic, but few that have been better or more focused on encouraging their audience and participants to involve themselves in learning about the past. Or to come together as a lifelong community.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Lynn says:

    Welll said, Kathleen – and Mark too. Phyllis and Ron’s sandbox, whichever it was that day, became the place where thousands of us who were marginally socially acceptable in school – too many words, too much dreaming, too much history-art-theatre – were acceptable. Those too-much things were exactly what made us fit in here, finally. Still their ideas bring in the kids who know too much and are annoying to others; we understand them because we were there too. And they are our jewels. As one who was worried that we’d run out of young blood once, Phyllis’ dream carries on and carries new generations into her genius. My life changed forever when I first visited the faire as a 16 year old and I am thankful for it on a daily basis. Auntie Phyllis was the aunt I chose and I will always be grateful that I knew her and she knew me.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Gwendolyn C. Cone says:

    Beautifully and perfectly articulated. I can’t even begin to describe how much Phyllis and what she did changed my life or find the words for how grateful I am. Thank you for saying it so gracefully.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Becky Miller says:

    You have, once again, said what I could not, in so much better words than I could even imagine. Thank you, Kate, for being our voice and helping our hearts heal.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Cynthia Olsen says:

    Faire was a wonderful time in my and my girls’ lives. We truly owe Phyllis for creating such a wonderful venue that you allowed us to participate in.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. hangtown says:

    This is wonderful – you’re so right about the crafts, especially. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Kristi from california says:

    As a performer with deep ties to the family, and been a participant and a lil newbie that actually had met the great lady, we all as the sunday was the last day of the year for 2014 season, we all had loss but a great happiness that we know she was watching and enjoying the last day of play that she had created in the fairy kingdom,the mood was somber and respectful but also joyus, and many guilds were not told till the end of day to be official, and the undercurrent was love and joy and great regret that a light is gone, As a master now. yesterday I was stopped by a customer who told me I was the only person he had heard all day in a “real ” accent and asked me ” where is the magic?” he was sad that everyone has become politcally correct and that history has sometime been forsaken for profit,, but really he longed for the day of carefree fun that he remebers from his youth.. that is the power that this medium of re enactment has on us. I would never have finished school if i coudnt go sing in hobby horse for weekend and now Im a teacher and a master and passing on the great work of old world skills, ethics and beliefs. that the modern person has lost. .. so call me Lost in time and in space… Phyliis thank you.. Sister
    Angel Butterbottom. ST. Electus RPFS 2014 52 years not bad?? 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Here try this piece of RenFaire history, I tried to make this video as if it had been craft in the style of the time. Hope I have succeeded.
      Thanks for re-posting this Tala, I made a video about Phyllis Patterson. I couldn’t find any reference to her death in any mainstream media, not even the IJ, Marin County’s well-respected Independent-Journal in Novato, the long-time home of RenFaire at Black Point. I came across Kate/Kage’s blog, even re-posted the relevant parts of it with my YouTUBE posting of my tribute memorial presentation. I myself also just learned of her passing back in 2010 from her sisters’ comments. Please review my video and let me know if any changes need be made, or if you have any source/re-source for substitute photographs and imagery.

      Enjoy, and if you will be so kind please forward, re-post and share my Renaissance Faire video with others.

      G-Shots-TV, Videography
      G-Shots by GARi, Photograhy


  12. Beautifully put. I started my days back in Agoura, and was dragged back into participating a few years ago by my daughter, who (at the age of 10) walked through the gates, took a deep breath and smiled. “This feels like home.”

    Yes it does. Thank you Phyllis, and Ron, and everyone else who helped create a safe place for us to play and grow.


  13. Leslie Patterson says:

    Thank you Kathleen.


    • Kate says:

      Thank *you*, all of you, for letting the rest of us into this private family time. I had to write something. It’s my drug these days.


  14. John says:

    I read about Phyllis Patterson passing. I did not know who she was. My home Faire is Bristol, my first visit being over 30yrs ago when it was King Richards. It’s always been in my life, and for the last few years, even more so. Not sure why, but I have a real connection…

    I’ve never really given much thought of the person who started it all, and now I have a face to put to it….kinda emotional right now…

    Thank you Phyllis, for your vision. A place where those of us who may be a “little off” can go and no one looks at you funny. Where no one makes fun of you. Where we feel welcome.

    I’ve never worked the Faire, although that may change one day, I’m just a patron. A simple patron who enjoys the performers, food, artisans. The art of it.

    Cheers to Phyllis! GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!!


    • Kate says:

      Welcome, John. Bristol Faire is a cousin faire to the California ones; several of our folks have emigrated there over the years. I’m sorry you only found us at this sad juncture, but I’m glad we can introduce you to the founder of us all. Phyllis was an artist; we are her masterpiece.


      • John says:

        Thank you, Kate. And fine piece. Thanks for writing it. When I visit Faire this year, I am going to buy an extra ticket….


  15. Stuart Anhorn says:

    Phyllis, may all your glorious memories return to you, now and forever…
    Thank you! for giving me, some of my fondest…
    Stuart Anhorn


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