Medieval Combat Sport (MCS), Battle Games and Live Action Role-Play (LARP), with their hard foam weapons and medieval costumes and themes, have been an active subculture sport for decades, both nationally and internationally. There are casual and serious devotees to the sport; gatherings, competitions and tournaments take place all over the world.
Shannon Cramer has been a part of the medieval-themed sport Belegarth since she was fifteen; with her twin sister, they formed an official LARP student club at University of Oregon. She met her future partner and business partner – a skilled fighter who was making and selling tooled leather for the medieval costumes – at a gathering of a Belegarth group in Portland. Together they started combining their artistic skills in creating one-of-a-kind painted and tooled leather face/mouth guards (“murder masks”), and sold hem online on Etsy and in-person at events.
In 2014, Cramer was introduced to Plasti Dip by Lance at Caliston Armory – a shield and prop-shop. Plasti Dip – a rubberized coating generally used on tools and cars – had been used for shields in medium-contact battle games, and after seeing her artwork, Lance encouraged her try it for the full-contact game she played. As MCS and LARP shields are made on a foam base, using Plasti Dip can allow for more elaborate shields, while still being sturdy. Some of her early experiments were “play tested” at Belegarth battles, and she found that the coating did effectively increase the durability and longevity of the shields. In addition, the edges could be replaced when worn out – much in the same way that one would replace soles on shoes.
Cramer brought her fine arts background to bear on the project, creating faux wood grain, intricate Celtic designs and other period decorations to the faces of the shields. She quickly transitioned their Etsy shop from leather goods to shields only. She created shields in a variety of sizes and styles, as appropriate for various fighting styles, and she began to get a steady customer base, mostly amongst the more experienced and dedicated fighters in the sport, who were willing to pay a little more for her unique designs and careful handcrafting.
She recently acquired a shop space at ADX. “It’s been awesome to be here,” Cramer says. The ability to machine-cut some of the pieces has sped up production, and cutting down on the total time means she can lower some of her prices. She wants to make equipment more financially accessible especially to kids and to others just starting out in the sport.
In line with this mission, Cramer has posted shield construction tutorials on her website; while some have cautioned her that it may create competition for her products, she prefers to view it as building community, and ultimately more support, as new fighters develop their interest and skills and want more sophisticated equipment.
“I am trying to grow the art and the sport, both,” says Cramer.