Metalwork

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Black, James

James Black, popularly known as the maker of the bowie knife, was one of the early pioneers of Arkansas and settled in the town of Washington (Hempstead County) in southwest Arkansas. James Black was born on May 1, 1800, in New Jersey; the names of his parents are unknown. His mother died when he was young, and his father remarried. Black did not get along well with his stepmother and ran away from home at the age of eight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While in Philadelphia, he was taken in as an apprentice to a silverplater named Stephen Henderson. During that time, Black apparently became strongly skilled in the art of silverplating. In 1818, when he was eighteen years old, his …

Bowie Knife

The bowie knife, made popular in the 1830s, has evolved into a specific form in current use. The bowie knife was worn for defensive purposes; its primary function was for personal combat. It was designed to be part of a gentleman’s attire, and the key difference between the bowie knife and a hunting knife, a dagger, or a dirk was, initially, the quality of finish of the bowie. Bowie knives came in a variety of forms—with or without guards, with differently shaped blades—and often were adorned with silver and other decoration, sometimes including etching and/or engraving on their metal surfaces. The knife got its name from a pioneer family who settled in early Arkansas and Louisiana. Jim Bowie, the best …

Freund, Elsie Mari Bates

Elsie Mari Bates Freund was a studio art jeweler, watercolorist, and textile artist. In 1941, she and her husband, Louis Freund, established an art school in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) and were major players in preserving and making that town a haven for writers and artists. Elsie Bates was born on January 12, 1912, on a 1,500-acre game preserve in Taney County, Missouri, near the small community of Mincy. She had two sisters. Her father, Ralph C. Bates, who was the superintendent of the game preserve, was of Irish and Cherokee descent. Bates was proud of her Cherokee heritage and claimed that Indian lore kept her close to nature. Bates proclaimed she wanted to be an artist at age five. …

Lile, James Buel

James Buel “The Arkansas Knifesmith” Lile is one of the most accomplished and famous custom knife makers in American history. He carved his first fixed-blade knife from wood at the age of eight, and by age eleven, he was grinding old files into fixed-blade knives. James Lile was born on August 22, 1933, in Russellville (Pope County) to Leona and Buel Lile. His father was a coal miner who later worked for Arkla after the mines closed, and his mother was a housewife who also worked twenty years at the Local International Shoe factory. In 1952, at the age of nineteen, Lile met and worked for Winthrop Rockefeller welding bull pens being built at the Mountain Top Ranch on Petit …

Moran, Bill, Jr.

aka: William F. Moran Jr.
William F. Moran Jr. was the father of both the American Bladesmith movement and the modern forging of Damascus steel. Moran rediscovered the ancient process of making Damascus steel (layered steel) and incorporated this steel into his knives. Named in his honor, the unique Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing was located on the grounds of Historic Washington State Park before relocating to Texarkana, Texas, in 2019. Moran’s legacy added to the historic fabric of Arkansas’s knife heritage and helped preserve the timeless art of knife making. Knives made by Moran are now some of the most valuable in modern handmade custom knives. Bill Moran was born on May 1, 1925, to Margaret Reid Moran and William Francis Moran Sr., who …