The year was 2004. Second Life® was a very small place, where half of the residents participated rather a lot on the forums — and then met in-world to be creative together. It was the time when we still had a “Second Life community” — a time for individuals with their own ideas to share them together in a collaborative environment. A time where SL really felt like a small town where everybody pretty much knew everybody else and got frequently in touch with each other, since we were few enough.
I found about Kendra Bancroft by reading what she wrote on the forums. She was cleverly witty (and only much later I understood that she made “clever witty writing” a job). She was also one of the most creative and talented builders, in the days where most people were creative, but few were talented. And she had strong opinions — very strong ones.
I’m sure that she’ll always be remembered for her strong will, her talent, and her creativity. But what might be forgotten was her unswerving loyalty to her friends. Her passion as an artist and hew work would only come second — her friends would come first. And so strong were those bonds with friends that nothing will ever break them, even if Kendra left both SL and RL on past December, 11.
By mid-2004, her friendship with Ulrika Zugzwang was the way she was defined. “Oh, Kendra? She’s Ulrika’s friend”. You’d have to have met both to understand how strong those bonds were. In fact, so strong, that Kendra was blinded by her worship of Ulrika — it wasn’t until 2007 or so that she finally realised how she had been used.
2004, however, was definitely a year of experimentation in SL. The platform was solid enough to allow for novel business models, to test out the limits of creativity, to create new communities inside the big SL community. Kendra will very likely always be reminded by SLers by her two beloved subjects: Bavarian-style architecture and props, and steampunk. Her first love, however, came from a different reason. In RL, Kendra aka Maddie Blaustein was a an activist for the transgendered community. Being transgendered herself — a fact she only revealed several years later — she had experience in establishing relationships with people with similar ideas, organise them, and make these groups long-lasting and self-supportive. Creating the feel of “belonging” to a group was something she was quite familiar with. And, of course, she was also used to fight for her rights and quickly became a political activist.
It’s not surprising that Kendra was at the forefront of the Neualtenburg Projekt, the first (and still successful) experiment in self-governance in Second Life. She was the first to join Ulrika to submit the concept of self-rule in SL to a challenge made by Linden Lab’s Robin Linden; in those days, LL was usually keen to support “interesting projects” by forfeiting setup fees on mainland sims. While Ulrika will always claim the original idea was her own, it was through Kendra’s patient labour and stunning buildings and texture work that the idea became a virtual space. Leading a team of eager builders (and even admitting to having given Ulrika and others most of the textures, but keeping silent about it for many years), Kendra built almost everything — with a few exceptions — on the first self-governed sim in SL, the City of Neualtenburg (then located in the mainland sim of Anzere, where an infohub still stands).
Her work was, however, not limited to organise teams of builders. She was also the creator of all the amazing Bavarian-style props that she hoped, one day, to become the hallmark of Neualtenburg — a crossroads where talented designers would meet and create a “brand” that stood for high-quality content in Second Life. Things like the Chicken Hat (animated by Ulrika), her first dirndls, armour, 19th century Bavarian police uniforms, the many variants of “Neualtenburger Bier” (barrels, steins, and who knows what else), the Neuspa (an urban motorbike vaguely inspired on the Italian Vespa), the Giant Nutcrackers… all that Kendra built and maintained, works of love and joy, which gave the City its distinct style.
But at the same time, she was always bonding with other residents. While Ulrika logged in seldom, and focused on the forums, Kendra was in-world, hours and hours, experimenting with new things, greeting new residents, joking with them, thinking about the next idea or the next event — she was great at planning those — and ultimately also helping others to learn how to build in SL. For several years this was her most visible attitude: “you can count on Kendra”. She would always be there — as a shoulder to cry upon, as a source of witty comments, as the first to cheer up a group of newcomers to a party, but also as an overseer of work being done in SL. For long nights it seemed that she was the sculptor that cannot leave a project until it’s finished — but when she finally stopped working at something, she would immediately jump to the next one, encouraging a group to help out. That’s what she excelled at.
Kendra was really strong willed and had both feet planted on the ground. Living in communities with very stubborn residents, she was the one who often drew the line. And the most amazing thing is that her point was usually to say “up to here, we can discuss and argue about things; from here onwards, let’s have fun together“. That was not always fully understood. Kendra had a purpose, and it was definitely getting beautiful things done — but many of those beautiful things come from seeing what’s beautiful in people, not in buildings. You had to work together with Kendra to fully appreciate how she thought. I was often enthralled by her and could stand next to her for hours (since I sadly lack any talent whatsoever) just watching her to work and offering moral support, which was the only thing I was able to do for her. But that was also enough. Kendra didn’t judge people for their abilities or the lack of them; only the bonds of friendship were actually important to her. In a world dominated by drama, envy and jealousy, and all sorts of creeps and opportunists, Kendra was the reliable one — the rock that anchors the lighthouse against a backdrop of a raging ocean. You could trust her — always. She never made promises she couldn’t keep. She would always be the first to stand up for what she believed in, and defend her friends. But she would also be quick to stamp her feet and say “this has gone too far”.
Kendra had such a strong personality that it was perhaps surprising how she was easily shaken by problems affecting her closest friends. In her own words, ‘I may look like I can handle anything –but as Dylan said “I break just like a little girl”‘. This is really what defined Kendra for the years I knew her. Strong and keen to “handle anything”, even things she despised (but nevertheless did because her friends asked her to), but, when in serious need, or when having been betrayed by her closest friends, she would really break apart. That sadly happened sometimes. Iron-clad Kendra had definitely a bleeding heart.
I will sadly never fully understand why she so fully embraced Second Life, its original community, and became herself a community leader (with her own project, Port Neualtenburg, in the post-Ulrika era; her work with the sailing groups, where she made some amazing pirate ships; and later, joining up with Caledon, as the ultimate steampunk community, a theme she was particularly keen about). Two years ago, I think, she went to the SLCC and had quite some fun there — and also started to reveal a bit about her life in the real world. In my mind, Second Life was a way for her to escape the host of her (real life) fans, meet different people, and build her own reputation without pushing her real life credentials. She was accepted for what she did and said in Second Life, not for the decades of professional work done elsewhere.
Trained as a photographer — which gave her a keen eye for architecture, a reason why all her work in SL “just looks right” — and a transgendered activist, her success came mostly from being the voice of several characters in cartoon animations, like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. She did illustration work for comics and worked for both Marvel and DC. Unbeknown to most SL residents who met with Kendra every day, she had already a huge community of fans of her voice and work in the cartoon/animation industry. These days, you’ll see how strong that community is — they all know her from the voices she did, miss her incredibly, but little about the fantastic work done in Second Life, which totally escaped the news.
Ironically, the two worlds of Kendra and Maddie never came together in the first years in SL. Her comics/cartoon fans never heard about her incredible work in SL, and how she did not only amazing 3D modelling, but was always a community leader with clever ideas to entertain people in outstanding events. And her SL friends never knew she was the voice of Meowth in Pokémon or that she worked for DC and Marvel. I’m sure that most people in her situation would certainly capitalise on that. She didn’t. She was accepted for what she did in SL, not from what she was in RL.
Always a witty and clever writer, she was also Creative Director for Weekly World News for a while — creatively writing about aliens abducting humans for experiments is just so Kendra! She later started her own concept (after having left WWN), Tabloid Planet, which was probably the first time where she started to mix her real world with her Second Life and get both together.
Alas, the past two years haven’t been good ones for Kendra. She told me back then that in a period of few weeks, she left WWN, the cast of Pokémon was fired, her work on local radio was dismissed, and she couldn’t get any jobs as a photographer either. Those weren’t good days for her.
But did she give up? Oh no. In fact, it felt terribly unfair for someone who was always cheering her friends up to be in such a terrible situation all of a sudden, with little help available. Lesser women would completely break up and fall apart. Kendra, however, never gave up the struggle, and created her own media agency (Tabloid Planet) and went out to search for some work. That was the Kendra we used to love and admire — nothing could be “too bad” for her, there is always a way out, you can always get some last source of strength out of yourself to push yourself up again and never, ever, give up.
I’m afraid I don’t know much more about the terrible circumstances of her death. She never claimed to be an unhealthy person, rather the contrary. I’ve never heard of her complaining about a cold or a sore throat (in fact, Kendra was not really the type of person to complain about anything in her personal life, even though she grumbled about the lack of vision of her former employers). Without any other information, I can only imagine that she passed away because she was unable to pay for the costs of medication for something so simple as a stomach virus. If so, this is unbelievably sad. I can only hope that it wasn’t painful at the end.
I was looking forward to grow old and still admire Kendra’s ongoing work and attitude towards life, which had set a fascinating example on how to stubbornly deal with adversity and still be fun, friendly, and utterly loyal to her friends. Now I will remember her for all that she did every day when I log in to Second Life, since all her delightful content surrounds me in Neufreistadt. And ironically, the most precious gift she ever gave me was a simple cigarette texture for my own animated cigarette pack. Small things are the ones that are worth more than anything else, and that was the Kendra I knew: always eager to help even with small things. They matter a lot.
And the one thing I’ve learned from her was how to use em dashes on my writing — we both tend to overuse them. That’s something that will always make me remember her. Another small thing.
I’ll leave you with a short note I wrote as a recommendation for her, over a year ago:
“Maddie has been one of the oldest producers of high-quality 3D content in the virtual environment of Second Life. Due to her training as a professional photographer, and a very keen eye, she excels at producing very detailed replicas of complex models — of several sizes, from small props to large buildings and whole cities — and deploy them inside the Second Life platform. Her work is done unusually quick but with a high degree of accuracy. Unlike many similar creative designers, she’s even very willing to correct/change 3D models several months after they have been deployed. Besides her 3D modelling work, Maddie is also available to create a strategy for promotion of virtual presences inside Second Life, through her ability to create, host, and promote very lively events which attract a lot of visitors to a certain area. Combining both aspects — a marketing plan for promoting a venue, and building the venue itself — is something where Maddie has been quite successful and widely acclaimed, in the past three years that she has worked within Second Life.” October 2, 2007
Defining a person only by her work and professional attitude is not much, since Kendra was way more than that. But her fans will remember her mostly for her work. I’ll probably remember her for the small things she did for me, which nobody will really care about except us two.
The above picture was taken in October, 2004. Kendra (in the middle, facing to the left) was happily building the City of Neualtenburg for the upcoming Oktoberfest. That’s another way to remember Kendra: always willing to build things to entertain people. That was, in fact, what she devoted her life to, reflected obviously in all her work in real life as well as in Second Life.