The University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana will offer a Certificate of Proficiency in Bladesmithing beginning January 17 at the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades located in Historic Washington, Arkansas. Instructing the courses will be world-renowned Master Bladesmiths Jerry Fisk, James R. Cook, and Lin Rhea and Journeymansmith Ricardo Vilar.
Jerry Fisk, of Nashville, Arkansas, 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 (ABS) as the 17th bladesmith to receive the honor. Bill Moran and Bill Bagwell were Jerry’s early teachers, and he was involved when the first ABS Bladesmith School began in 1988. Jerry served with the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing from its inception until 2008.
Fisk’s love for knifemaking began at the age of 10 when he visited the Blacksmith Shop at Historic Washington, Arkansas. There he watched a blacksmith forge out a knife in the same method and same style shop from which James Black once worked and from which Jim Bowie once commissioned his famous Bowie knife. Jerry went home that day and carved himself out a wooden Bowie and has loved knives and history ever since.
From the beginning of his career, Fisk continued to learn and stretch his capabilities and traveled overseas learning techniques and methods used by bladesmiths from around the world. He made a “World Tour” in the early 90’s studying and teaching while visiting Russia, Italy, Germany, France, and England. With a hammer in hand, he continues to learn and teach others 47 years later.
Jerry is known for his work in Brazil and is recognized there as “the father of modern-day knife making.” In 2017, as a tribute to Jerry’s dedication to teaching bladesmithing there, he received the coveted Italian “Aldo and Edda Lorenzi Award” at the biggest International Blade Show in the World in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1992, Jerry developed the “Sendero” hunting knife known in the knifemaking industry all over the world. He is also known worldwide for “cutting competitions,” which he created in 1993. Fisk also spearheaded the Custom Knife Collector’s Association Jerry Fisk Cutlery Challenge to introduce the art of custom knives into the world outside of knifemaking.
In 2012, Jerry was selected by Arkansas Times Magazine as one of the “Top 50 most Influential Arkansans,” and in 2015, he was inducted into the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Hall of Fame. He received an “Honorary Arkansas Living Treasure” award in recognition of lifelong contributions and artistic excellence in the creation and preservation of a traditional craft, in Arkansas and throughout the United States, presented by the Department of Arkansas Heritage and Arkansas Arts Council in 2019.
Fisk has received other awards too numerous to list, a few of which include 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.
James R. Cook, of Nashville, Arkansas, is a member of the Arkansas Knife Makers Association, the American Blade Smith Society, and is an Arkansas Living Treasure. He received a Master Smith rating with the ABS in 1991. His work has been featured in most knife-related publications in the U.S. and abroad. Cook serves as an official for the Master Smith Judging Committee with the American Bladesmith Society and helped create and facilitate the BLADE Show World Championship Cutting Competition. He has won multiple awards, including the 2011 Arkansas Knifemakers Association Show Best of Show, Best Damascus, and Best Giraffe Bone Handle, the 2010 Arkansas Knifemakers Association show Best Art Knife, and the 2009 American Bladesmith Society’s Chairman’s Award for Outstanding Service in Bladesmithing.
Lin Rhea, of Prattsville, Arkansas, is the Resident Historic Blacksmith at Historic Arkansas Museum. Rhea is a member of the Antique Bowie Knife Association, American Bladesmith Society, and the Custom Knives Collectors Association. He is well-known for his unique one-piece “X-Rhea” knife forged from carbon steel. Rhea has won several awards including the 2018 John White MS Memorial Best Bowie Award.
Ricardo Vilar, of Brazil, is a self-taught bladesmith who began his professional career in 1993 and became a licensed Journeymansmith with the American Bladesmith Society in 2005. Vilar served as the president of the Brazilian Society of Cutlers from 2003 to 2008, is a co-founder of a cutlery school in partnership with the University of Brasilia, and was invited by the University of Texas in 2005 to be a Brazilian style instructor at the Hammer-in Fall. In 2010, he was the coordinator and teacher of a cutlery course for Corneta Tools in Osasco, Brazil, where he taught more than two hundred students. In 2011, one of his knives was adopted as the official knife of the Brazilian Parachute Brigade. Some of his recent awards include Best Field Knife IV, Best Tactical Knife IV, Best Industrial Knife IV, and Best Knife Bush Craft IV at the 2015 International Cutlery Show.
The Certificate of Proficiency in Bladesmithing degree plan is designed to provide students with a unique opportunity to earn a degree in the historic art of bladesmithing on UAHT’s Historic Washington, Arkansas campus. Bladesmithing is the art of making blades for knives, swords, and daggers by using a forge, hammer, anvil, and other smithing tools. 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.
For more information about the UAHT James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades or to enroll, call 870-722-8172 or visit www.uaht.edu/bladesmithing.
James R. Cook