When he was growing up, Robert Berry had a fondness for medieval times. The Southern California native whiled away his spare hours drawing castles, dragons and other legendary images.
Years later, Berry attended the funeral of the father he only partially knew. And what happened next played out like something from European folklore.
Berry, a truck driver for CR England who grew up mostly with his mother after his parents split, watched dumbfounded as a group of men wearing medieval armor carried his father's casket.
Among the men was Berry's brother, who explained that their father had founded a society of family and friends — the Dragonslayers — who dressed in period garb and frequented Renaissance fairs around Arizona.
Soon after, Berry suited up in leather and chain mail himself and joined the Dragonslayers at a fair appearance. Once he'd done that, it was time for the true initiation.
"I was given his first sword that he handmade," Berry said. "He worked for Caterpillar. He handmade this sword. I carry it in his honor."
This Sunday, Berry will lug that sword — a heavy one, he makes sure to note — to Art-A-Fair in Laguna Beach, where the Dragonslayers will serve as models for an hourlong "quick draw" session. From 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Berry and at least three cohorts will pose on the grounds at 777 Laguna Canyon Road while onlookers sketch, paint or otherwise indulge.
The Dragonslayers, who are not an official business and have no website, may not give off much of a Laguna vibe, but they have a connection to the annual juried art show. Rosemarie Rush, a longtime Art-A-Fair participant, belongs to the group and arranged its visit this summer.
Rush, who owns the South 40 bar in Mira Loma, got to know Berry and his friends when they began patronizing her establishment — chain mail, swords and all. This year, she began suiting up with the group as well.
The Dragonslayers may not be a business, but Art-A-Fair is. And that gave Rush an idea as the summer approached.
"I just thought it would be something that would intrigue people to come see us," said Rush, whose booth features Western-themed colored pencil and gourd art rather than medieval artifacts. "And me being a board member of Art-A-Fair, I of course want to try to get more people into the show. And the Dragonslayers definitely attract attention."
Berry's father learned about that attention when he dressed in medieval garb for the first time at an office Halloween party. According to his son, the elder Berry's friends got into the act themselves, and soon they began researching how to make their costumes as authentic as possible.
Evidently, that led to some memorable costume-making sessions.
"He would make sure that everything was beat up and cut up and scratched and stuff broken, like you've really been in battle," Berry said. "You looked like you walked off a battlefield. That was his biggest thing, was to make the detail of that. So when you make something brand new and nice, you take it into the yard and you throw mud on it. You cut it up with your knives. You throw it out in the street and beat it up."
With those beat-up, cut-up, muddy garments, the original Dragonslayers haunted Renaissance and county fairs around Arizona. Sometimes, they got invitations to appear at grand openings and parties. The group never ventured to California, though. But when Berry joined the Dragonslayers almost a decade ago, he set about expanding their territory.
Now the group comprises about 30 members who live in Arizona, California, Georgia and Colorado; some of the longtime members moved across the country for work-related reasons. The members' occupations lean decidedly blue-collar, with machinists, truck drivers and construction workers among the ranks.
Even still, Berry said, the Dragonslayers aren't interested in reaping profits from their appearances.
"We've been offered to work at these fairs," he said. "But when you're working the fair and all that, they say you can't have your beer."
If You Go
What: Quick-draw session with the Dragonslayers
Where: Art-A-Fair, 777 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
When: 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday
Cost: Quick draw is free with standard Art-A-Fair admission of $7.50 for adults, $4.50 for seniors (65 and older), military and students. Artists must bring own supplies. Art-A-Fair will also host a boxed lunch with the Dragonslayers at 11:45 a.m. at the Tivoli Too! restaurant; cost is $7.50.
Information: (949) 494-4514 or http://www.art-a-fair.com; call (949) 494-6044 for lunch reservations.