Bladesmithing school opens at Historic Washington State Park  

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A Bowie knife, the state knife of Arkansas
A Bowie knife, the state knife of Arkansas

A bladesmithing school, the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, has opened at Historic Washington State Park in Washington, Arkansas. Those who attend the school will be in for a treat as instructors include world-renowned master bladesmiths.

The school provides students an opportunity to earn a degree in bladesmithing. Arkansas, since the start of American Bladesmith Society, has been a hotbed of bladesmithing. Around 10 percent of the world’s recognized Master Bladesmiths are Arkansans and the first bladesmithing school, the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing, was created in the state in the late 1980s. For many years the school was the only one of its kind in the nation. It was named after Bill Moran, the first smith of this century to successfully forge Damascus steel.

The James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades builds on this special heritage in the craft that Arkansas holds.

The town of Washington, Arkansas has many ties to the craft too as the original Bowie knife, which is now the state knife of Arkansas, was made there. The town, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is now both a state park and town intermingled. The park includes over thirty restored historic structures that serve as a homage to what life was like in the town during the 1800s.

One of the many structures people can tour now when they visit Historic Washington State Park is an interpretive blacksmith shop. Built by the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation in 1960, the shop has working forges. Washington’s most famous blacksmith, James Black, is credited with forging one of the original Bowie knives for James “Jim” Bowie in the early 1830s. Throughout the year, the state park hosts forging workshops where you can learn the craft.

As to the instructors, they include Master Bladesmith Jerry Fisk, an Honorary Arkansas Living Treasure whose love for craft began when he first visited the blacksmith shop at Historic Washington State Park when he was a kid; Master Bladesmith James Cook, who is also an Arkansas Living Treasure; Master Bladesmith Lin Rhea, the resident blacksmith at Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock; and Journeyman Smith Ricardo Vilar, who is from Brazil and also a judge on the television show “Forged in Fire” Latin American Edition on the History Channel. The school is a program of the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.

The James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades is located at Historic Washington State Park at  601 Lawrence Street in Washington, Arkansas. For more information about the school, visit uaht.edu/bladesmithing. For more information about Historic Washington State Park, visit arkansasstateparks.com/parks/historic-washington-state-park.