The craft of Asgard - where it all started. By Jim Glazzard.By Jim
I graduated from the University of York with a degree in Archaeology in 1994, and an interest in Viking culture that was expressed through Viking re-enactment. Involving fighting, re-creating some Viking age objects for personal use, and, what I later came to realise was, interpreting Viking age history and archaeology for the general public at events up and down the British Isles.
Below - A very young archaeology student, just discovering Viking re-enactment.
And this could have been as far as it went, indeed many re-enactors are happy to do just that, engrossing themselves in a hobby that draws on existing knowledge of the Viking age, and presents it in a fun, entertaining way, on a bank holiday at a historic site somewhere.
For me, this all stepped up a gear when, in 1999, I got a job with the Jorvik Viking Centre as one of their ‘in house’ Vikings, an interpreter by job description, and entertainer in practice. But it was here that I really started looking closely at the Viking age artefacts, it can’t be helped really, when surrounded by them day in day out. And I looked at the objects I, and other re-enactors, used for our interpretations, and looked at the original objects, and saw the difference.
Combs and cloakpins were objects I was particularly drawn to, and I resolved to make some. How hard can it be? I asked myself. Well I found out. The first issue was, of course, that there was no Viking age manual of how to do these things, so I had to work it out myself. There are reports, and scholarly works, of course, but their conclusions on the methods used for making an item such as a Viking comb were not based on practical experience, at least, not in 1999. So I made some, and as I left the JVC at the end of the 1999 summer season, I spent a bit of time in 2000 perfecting the methods for making combs, cloakpins. And other pieces that were useful to re-enactors, like dice, bone and brass needles, tweezers, scales, that sort of thing. I would sell these to re-enactors where I could, and visited Norway for the first time, attending the Karmoy Viking festival, which is where I fell in love with the concept of the open air Viking Museum.This period of ad-hoc trading was, effectively, the first version of the business that is now Asgard.
My first workshop was in an outhouse of a house I rented a room in, my second was in the front room of my next rented house, but at this stage there was not enough money in doing this to pay the bills, so I went back to work, wherever I could, including a short stint in commercial field Archaeology.
At the end of 2000, I moved to Bradford to be with my now wife, Cat, and carried on making Viking bits and bobs in my spare time while I worked office jobs, and whatever paid the bills. Workshop 3 was in the shed at the back of our house. We founded Asgard, as Asgard Crafts, at the start of 2002, and began trading at re-enactment shows, pushing our Vauxhall Astra Estate car to its limits as we sped around the country from show to show with a Viking tent lashed to the roof rack, and the back loaded up with gear and dogs.
The Asgard Crafts stall, about 2002. Somewhere in England!
Demonstrating antler comb making, at a very windy Carlisle Castle.
This was fun, but we had to do a lot of buying in and selling of stuff I didn’t make, to pay the bills. So we saw how much of a difference jewellery makes to the trader at a weekend show. I was also gaining a reputation for high quality replicas of Viking age artefacts suitable for use in museum displays, which helped keep the business going through the winter.
At the, very wet, Karmoy Viking Festival, 2002.
In 2004, with our first child on the way, we made the hugest decision it was possible to make, we moved to Scotland, to Plockton in the Highlands, and carried on working and travelling where we could. Our aim was to get a shop/workshop in the area, but this was slow going, so I worked on the first jewellery designs to be cast in pewter at the kitchen table. I was doing some casting on the stove, in home made moulds, but we needed something more professional. So we got another company to cast the first 8 designs.
The Lochcarron shop in the snow.
We moved to the shop in Lochcarron at the start of 2006, and attracted a lot of tourist trade, selling hand made Viking reproduction artefacts: combs, bone pins, cloak pins and jewellery. We also sold incense, gifts and fair trade clothing. The museum commissions kept coming in, and I expanded my knowledge of Viking age craft techniques, all based on research and experimentation, gradually moving more towards the metalworking techniques. Silver and copper alloys became specialities. It was while we were there that we expanded the pewter jewellery range, drawing on the results of the experimentation, and following my research into Viking designs. Around 2009 we started casting our own pewter designs on a more serious level, as the wholesale and website sales grew.
Stall at the Jorvik Viking Festival - with much more pewter on display.
In 2011 Asgard, as it was now known, seeing as the majority of our sales were from our pewter jewellery range, had outgrown the little shop in Lochcarron, so we moved to the Isle of Skye. Based on an industrial estate in Broadford, we increased the scale of production significantly, and continued to produce more designs as our market, and worldwide interest in Viking culture grew.
Jim and Paddy taking a break from the foundry work, in a rare moment of sunshine on the Isle of Skye.
Our final (hopefully!) move was in 2015, as we found that not only was the Broadford workshop getting a bit small, but we also needed to be closer to transport links to the global audience we were now attracting for our products, we decided to move to Dunoon, in Argyll. An hour away from Glasgow, but still close to the water and west coast Scottish scenery and culture that brought this Viking enthusiast to Scotland in the first place. This stunning part of Britain is almost exactly like the parts of Scandinavia we visit at every opportunity, and is the perfect setting for the further growth of Asgard, which is now a globally recognised brand, noted for the way we remain true to ancient Viking age design, while bringing that design to a modern audience. Providing a tangible link to the past, and interpreting what we know of the Viking age culture and crafts to a wider audience than ever before. Which is great, because that is what I wanted to do in the first place.
The Asgard stand as it now appears at various trade fairs through the year.
Still taking out a Viking stall - after all these years. Here at the Lofotr Viking Festival, in 2016.
This piece was intended as an introduction to my work and the development of Asgard into the phenomenon it is today. I have said nothing of the associations with Viking Metal bands, film and TV work and appearances, or really much about the experimental archaeology and replica work we carry out. I’ll get more into that another time. Stay tuned!