By Jen Bakken
DELANO, MN One might assume that behind the mask of The Black Knight, at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, is a tall, powerful, and muscular man, but for over 15 years, this part was played by an average-sized, unassuming woman named Frances Fignar.
Her very modest castle, Fortitude Farms, is located on 18 acres, half of which is swamp, in Independence. At 66 years old, she has maintained the property herself for the past 23 years.
How does a woman, who grew up in Minneapolis, end up taking on the role of The Black Knight?
The answer is simple horses.
Nearly everything Fignar does revolves around her four- legged friends.
“I don’t know what it is about them,” she said. “I love them. I guess I got made that way.”
At the young age of 3 years old, she was offered a ride on a neighbor’s horse, and she has never looked back.
When she received a flyer about the Renaissance Fair looking for entries, she just knew it would be a fun thing to do.
“I had been riding costume classes and already had a knight costume I made,” she remembered. “So I hopped on my horse and rode into the fair. The TV news cameras followed me in and that was it, they asked me to work there.”
Riding through the crowds at the fair as The Black Knight was fun during the 1980s, but isn’t the end of her Renaissance story. Fignar has also ridden elephants, camels, been in countless parades, and even participated in a knight race at Canterbury Park.
“I met a lot of interesting people at the fair. When you get into actors, they are all different,” she smiled. “I haven’t been back for years it’s changed and I don’t want my memories to change.”
For 30 years, she worked for Northwestern Bell, first as a clerk and then as a network engineer, performing long-distance planning. In 1992, she retired.
“Retiring wasn’t my plan at the time,” she said. “But things were changing and I could see the handwriting on the wall. It was time.”
There were many years in her life devoted to horses in the form of showing, teaching, playing polo, instructing horsemanship, and working with her favorite animal.
Though she was never married and didn’t have children, Fignar has never felt alone.
“I manage; it’s my life,” she said. “It’s what I do, I guess. Is it any different than having kids? The horses are my kids. We live cheaply and, as long as there is a roof over our heads, hay in the barn, and food on the table, we’re doing good.”
Involvement with 4-H and with her church, Our Lady of the Lake Church in Mound, keeps her active, as well.
A typical day for Fignar begins in the barn around 6 a.m., and most of her time is spent outdoors. Admittedly, she is not a housekeeper.
She still rides, even with a bad leg, because she believes everyone has aches and pains and a little pain is a good thing.
“Don’t expect life to be easy,” she said. “The challenge makes it more fun.
With about 5,000 books and many trophies scattered about her home (all having to do with horses), a small TV, a VCR, countless movies, and an old computer that has never visited the Internet, Fignar is hands- down a unique individual.
Her creative side shows in her drawings, sketches, stories, and poetry; and classical music playing in the background keeps her company.
“I’ve never considered myself the average, run-of-the- mill person because I’ve never lived like one,” she said. “But, do we have to? What is normal anyway? This is normal for me, it really just is.”