The 92nd General Assembly, in ACT 510, designated the Bowie knife, commonly known as the “Arkansas Toothpick,” as the official knife of the State of Arkansas. The General Assembly also passed, and Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law ACT 818, which designated Historic Washington, Arkansas, as the “Birthplace of the Bowie Knife, Arkansas Heritage Site” and designated the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana to develop and operate a school of bladesmithing located in Historic Washington. To commemorate the monumental significance of the Bowie knife being named Arkansas’s official blade and Historic Washington, Arkansas, being designated as an official Arkansas Heritage Site, the University of Arkansas Community College Hope-Texarkana Foundation commissioned the creation of the “Arkansas #1” Bowie knife.
To create a piece of artwork as significant as Arkansas #1, the UAHT Foundation commissioned world-renowned Master Bladesmith and National Living Treasure, Jerry Fisk. Fisk began making knives in 1972, and his career as a full-time knifemaker began in 1987. He received his rating of Mastersmith in 1989 from the American Bladesmith Society as the 17th bladesmith to receive the honor. Fisk’s love for knifemaking began at the age of 10 when he visited the Blacksmith Shop at Historic Washington, Arkansas. Since that time, he has been recognized in Brazil as the father of knifemaking, received the coveted Italian Aldo and Edda Lorenzi Award, selected by Arkansas Times Magazine as one of the Top 50 Most Influential Arkansans, inducted into the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Hall of Fame, received an Honorary Arkansas Living Treasure Award, received the National Living Treasure Award, the American Bladesmith Society Hall of Fame Award, the American Bladesmith Society’s W.W. Scagel Lifetime Achievement Award, and two William F. Moran Knife of the Year Awards.
Arkansas #1 began being formed in early July. The details in the knife make it as extraordinary as it is beautiful. The Arkansas #1 blade has 1,836 layers of steel representing the year when Arkansas achieved statehood. The twelve-inch blade also contains steel from the handrail of the Statue of Liberty to represent the liberty and freedom Arkansans enjoy as American citizens. In the adornment of Arkansas #1, twenty-five arrow points are in the running wheat pattern starting from the center of the back of the handle to the guard. The points signify Arkansas being designated as the 25th state to join the union, and each point also represents a star on the flag of Arkansas.
The handle of Arkansas #1 is fashioned from the State designated James Black Walnut Tree located in the cemetery where James Black is buried. In 1831, James Black crafted the original Bowie knife in Washington, Arkansas. The result was that Washington, Arkansas, and Black became almost immediately famous for producing what is now recognized as the official blade of the State of Arkansas and the National American Blade. Fisk said, “It’s almost like the tree sprung up for this very purpose, to keep the history of James Black and Jim Bowie alive.”
Governor Asa Hutchinson will dedicate Arkansas #1 at the grand opening of the UAHT James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades campus, located in Historic Washington State Park, on January 17 at 2:30 p.m. The grand opening will also be the first public viewing of Arkansas #1. One goal of the James Black School is to celebrate and preserve the art of bladesmithing and the birth of the famous Bowie Knife in Washington, Arkansas. Please join the UAHT family as we take the first step in achieving this goal. Along with the dedication will be a special reception hosted by the Southwest Arkansas Arts Council.
UAHT will offer a Certificate of Proficiency in Bladesmithing beginning January 17. The degree plan is designed to provide students with a unique opportunity to earn a degree in the historic art of bladesmithing. Courses in the credit program will include Introduction to Bladesmithing, Intermediate Bladesmithing, Knifemaking, Handles and Guards, Damascus Steel, and Advanced Bladesmithing. Students will also have the option to enroll in classes as non-credit students. Master Bladesmiths Jerry Fisk, Lin Rhea, and James Cook and Journeymansmith Ricardo Vilar will instruct the courses.
For more information, call 870-722-8202 or visit https://www.uaht.edu/bladesmithing/.