You might recognize our cover model—female knight, professional archer, mermaid, and entrepreneur Virginia Hankins—from our Spring 2014 issue, in which we told you all about how she vowed to became a knight after watching a lance-wielding costumed rider race down the USC football field at full gallop atop an Andalusian stallion, and how she sought out enthusiasts to train her, and how she worked closely with Seattle’s Black Diamond Metal Arts to design her one-of-a-kind custom armor. We’ve been in love with her ever since. How can you not love someone who works so hard to make a beautiful fantasy into a reality?

Although we’d already featured her, along with spectacular underwater Joan of Arc images by Brenda Stumpf, we couldn’t resist doing a new shoot with Hankins during a trip to California last spring to the enchanted ranch of Tricia Saroya. It was art director Lisa Gill who came up with the idea of re-creating Edward Burne-Jones’s 1890 painting The Briar Wood, which depicts a group of knights sleeping among the brambles outside Sleeping Beauty’s castle, having fallen to the same spell. William Morris composed the verse on the painting’s frame:

The fateful slumber floats and flows About the tangle of the rose;
But lo! the fated hand and heart To rend the slumberous curse apart!

We loved the idea of Hankins being the sleeping knight, with her bright red hair cascading around her. Saroya coated the forest ground with bright petals of belladonna—and even found a perfect little bird’s nest to tuck into Hankins’s long locks. “I chose that flower because it was pretty and looked good with the dark green of the ivy and against the red
of her hair,” Saroya says. “But it also means silence in the tradition of the language of flowers and is known as deadly nightshade. I was thinking, too, about the cultural oppression of women and the demand of their silence traditionally, especially in the time of knights and the medieval feudal system. Here we have a beautiful woman, silent and at rest among the deadly nightshade, seemingly vulnerable and innocent—who is also a badass warrior! I love the idea of the nest in her hair. Women are traditionally the nesters, the ones who give birth. Here she shows us that she can be a warrior, beautiful, and the one to create the nest.” Photographer Steve Parke tiptoed delicately through the petals to get our cover shot—amazed all the while that Hankins could not only lie alluringly in a suit of armor but pose in it too.

“Be your own champion” is, not surprisingly, Hankins’s motto. When she showed up to the shoot, she not only brought her sword and armor but a goddess gown and her bow and arrow. So she ended up posing as both a maiden goddess and a warrior knight. Why can’t a woman be both at the same time—and, indeed, anything else she dreams of?

Photographer: STEVE PARKE
Styling: TRICIA SAROYA
Model: VIRGINIA HANKINS

From Spring 2017 #38

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