07 January 2009

Lost Friends, 2008

1893. The travails of the last several months have been seemingly bracketed by two very sad events. One I've mentioned, one I can now mention. Thier passing seemed oddly appropriate, during a very dire season of a rather difficult year.

About three months ago (I could look up the date but it's still a little painful), I lost a friend and a teacher I knew in the SCA as Ciaran Cluana Ferta, but "mundanely" as Brian Russell.

Brian was a singular guy. He died of complications from heart disease and a long battle with diabetes; he was only in his upper fifties (as seems true with many such people I knew who have endured such travails, he looked a bit older than that but he was taking care of himself as best he could and I thought he had a few more miles on the clock).

In the past I've given Jeff Fisher much credit for inspiring me to go for a career as a designer, which is true, but few people have just one inspiration. Brian was one. You see, before I had pretentions to be a graphic designer, I just loved drawing. Brian saw this, and in his persona as an SCA monk-on-the-run (long story) and my natural affinity for other heralds, he knew just the thing I needed to do: draw coats-of-arms.

And this I did. And as I got good at it (and I got good, I will blow my own horn here loudly) and then got into graphic design, I realized that heraldic art was not only technical drawing but also medieval graphic design. The designer in this case can add some style, but you're working withing a canon and toward accomplishing someone else's goal, and if you like designing, you understand that the real charge isn't sometimes so much in creating the graphic art, but watching it do its job whether or not you get the credit right away.

One of the greatest compliments was paid me by Brian. A long time habitue of British and Irish culture (he claimed to hold dual USAan/Irish citizenship and could even speak some Irish Gael) he told me that he thought that my work was good enough to stand aside anything the English College of Arms did. I had my own style and loved it; but at the same time, I know when it's time to put your style in the service of something bigger.

At the time he died, he was involving me on another project, the creation of a battle roll-of-arms of the Battle of Barnet, one of the Wars of the Roses. What I got done before he left us has been so far recorded in one of my other blogs, Creating the Roll. It is currently in abeyance, a victim of other centrifugal forces both as a result of his passing and not.

There is so much to say about Brian. He was married, divorced and was about to be remarried when his wife was taken from him in a pointless twist of fate; he served some years as a monk (an actual one) in a small monastery in Georgia, of all places (the one here in the USA); he worked for many years at Broadway Cab, which is what he was doing when I came to know him; the last decade or so of his life, not so physically prosperous. But he was happy. He had his lady love, a good life, the admiration of friends. He loved music and wrote liturgically, and served the world via his website (go here to get it all) and was renouned for the amount of music he made available to people.

He was my friend and a teacher, and, looking back on it, he was the big brother I never had.

The other person that left us and inspired me was also interesting, a character, who loved the law. He was trained legally but did not hang himself out a shingle; he worked the courts up in Thurston County, Washington. His name was David Hunter, and he was styled David Hunter of Montlaw.

David had something that you and I and not everyone you know had; he could prove descent from one of the clans of Scotland, and this gave him the right to petition the Lord Lyon ... the chief heraldic officer of Scotland ... to matriculate suitably differenced arms.

He was the closest thing I knew of to an authentic Scots laird, altho I'm aware I may be using that term incorrectly. But one thing's certain; he was proud of being officially "matriculated", as the term of art is, and even though I was rather envious, I certainly wouldn't begrudge him that. His arms, as rendered, are illustrated here; the blazon is:

Vert a cross-crosslet Argent square-pierced Gules on a chief engrailed Argent three hunting horns Vert stringed and viroled Gules

Which, translated into English, means "On a green field, a cross with crosspieces on the ends with a red square in the middle, with a white stripe across the top with a cup-scalloped line of division three green horns with red ties on".

You can see why heraldry needs a specialized language. For the complete glory of the arms, including a description of the stuff on top (the crest), go here. If you're a Herald and you don't go "that there's some good stuff, boy", then there's something wrong with you.

He was a really really smart Herald, whom we knew in the SCA as Baron David of Moffat (for reasons too complicated to explain here, you can't necessarily have your own name as a registered SCA tag ... and no self-respecting Herald, in my opine, would be seen for long without a registered name (mine's Sebastian zem Sterne, FWIW). Perhaps it was his legal training, but he could argue a contrary point of view and never make you feel as though he was just contradicting you for contradiction's sake. He was one of the whetstones we sharpened our minds against. Helped, of course, that he was right more often than wrong.

But perhaps a more defining mark was that was how he did every dog-gonned thing he ever tried superbly, as a matter of fact, it seemed almost unfair, the way he was so accomplished and made it look so easy. For him, it seemed as automatic as breathing air. For this he was sometimes referred to by some in our group by a dubbing I hacked out of the comic strip Sylvia: "The Baron Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You".

But for the apparent snark thereon, it was actually a compliment. Sure, he seemed to do everything well and effortlessly, but he shared what he knew and would talk endlessly about it if you were interested. Just like the rest of us in the SCA, he tried to pass on what he knew in teaching. And you could do much, much worse as a teacher than Baron David of Moffat, quite easily you could do worse.

David was a type 1 diabetic who seemed to be doing quite fine. He was in his mid-forties, if memory serves. His death was as unexpected as it was untimely. I still don't feel as though I've done proper pennance for poking fun at him, which I did with maybe too much glee from time to time, because he was a much better and smarter man than I.

Each one of these two men did quite a lot to motivate and inspire me. And, just like humans everywhere, I rather took them for granted. I'm sorry about that. We will not see thier like again.

But at least I got to know them for a while, and I can carry that inspiration forward, as long as I remember them. I'm thankful for the chance that I had to know them.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Tacoma Games have come and gone, and this year was without David Hunter of Montlaw. Being a fellow Olympian, I felt a special bond with David, but more than that - he was an artist of special renown! I have never seen such beautiful needlework, and probably will not again. He was a pleasure to know and love.