Brothers gain edge by making weapons

Business: The Stagmer brothers' swords and other weapons are particularly popular with events such as the Maryland Renaissance Festival, which will begin Saturday.

August 22, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

In the basement of Oella Mill - through the chain-link fence and down steep, rickety steps, beyond the gaping concrete doorway and just around the corner from the half-finished walls - is a fantasy-fed factory where jousting and dragons are part of daily life.

But the brothers who run it don't deal in dreams. They deal mostly in weapons.

Inside, in the damp, stifling heat, Kerry and Matt Stagmer hammer swords from sheets of steel, wrap rapier handles in leather, forge medieval-style armor and piece together intricate jewelry from platinum and gold.

"Basically, anything from [the 10th] to the 17th century made out of metal, we make," said Kerry Stagmer, 38. His brother is 19.

Their work is sold to collectors and theater troupes, but particularly to renaissance festival coordinators, who use it to bring battles to life.

Dan O'Driscoll, principal fight choreographer for New York's Renaissance Festival, which is being held now, is staging a 30-person battle filled with shields and blunt-edged swords. Much of the weaponry came from the Stagmers.

"Kerry's swords ring," O'Driscoll said, "and a singing sword is especially important for me where I'm working with sound as well as the visual. The [ringing] really adds to the spectacle."

Closer to home, starting Saturday at the opening of the 26th Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, King Henry will wield a two-handed sword (so called because it takes two hands to handle) that was made by the Stagmers as he battles for his wife's honor in a daily human chess match. The sword has a 44-inch blade and cost $425.

"I try to exclusively use Kerry's weapons when I can get them," said Jim Frank, the festival's fight choreographer. "We have two broad swords of his that are 8 years old. That's the kind of work he does. It lasts forever."

The elder Stagmer began the business, Baltimore Knife & Sword Co., in 1990 after seven years of learning the craft by trial and error with another brother.

Matt joined as an apprentice about five years ago.

"I like the freedom of it," the younger Stagmer said. "We get to do a lot of cool stuff."

They make swords with sawtooth-style flames along the edge. They re-create knightly collars. They make war hammers with skull heads.

Kerry Stagmer is slowly moving away from weapons and toward jewelry, studying with craft workers in New York and testing his brother's interest in inheriting the sword and dagger work. He said his brother has "really brought a whole new dimension to it."

The younger Stagmer leans toward more modern designs, which, although they make his ultra-traditional brother a little nervous, sell well.

The brothers' focus now is on moving. Oella Mill is expected to be converted into luxury apartments shortly, and the many artisans within it have to find new studios and store space, the Stagmers included.

"It's a sad demise for a very interesting building," Kerry Stagmer said.

He and his girlfriend recently bought a house in Marriottsville and will move the metal-working business there within a few months.

For now, the brothers will continue to work at the mill and weigh their options.

"It's the best place to do your thinking," Matt Stagmer said. "There's no place better."

The Maryland Renaissance Festival opens Saturday on Crownsville Road in Crownsville. It will run from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends and on Labor Day. Admission is $7 for children and $16 for adults. The human chess match is held daily at 3:30 p.m. Information:; 800-296-7304.

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