The inaugural James Black Bowie Heritage Festival began Saturday morning with a ribbon cutting at the front doors of the Old Washington WPA Gymnasium.
Once the cut was made, hundreds of attendees moved into the building where a knife show was in progress with what 20 of what the event times call world-class blacksmiths displaying their wares on tables.
Some knives had engravings on their blades. Some had exotic handles, like segments of elk horn and varnished marble. Some might chop down trees. Some were clearly intended for the kitchen. Some you would just post. Some blacksmiths even brought elaborately decorated pistols for which they had forged the parts and made the engravings. A blacksmith, calling himself Captain Chop-o-matic, was dressed like a 70s professional wrestler.
East of the 1874 courthouse and on the stage from 9:30 a.m. was storyteller Robbin Ridgell, who read stories from his 2010 book “Ain’t Life Funny” to grow up near Prescott. The story titled “It Could Happen to Anyone” involves an extinct worm seen on a pile of shelled black-eyed peas suddenly reappearing in the worst possible way. You’ll want to buy his book to find out how.
Drawing a large crowd outside the James Black School of Blacksmithing and Historical Trades, two hosts of “Forged in Fire” from the History Channel judge and cutting weapons expert Doug Marcaida, master blacksmith and judge James Neilson, with Nashville native and Nashville show champion Ricardo Vilar.
For an hour, they answered various questions from attendees about the fair’s competitions and the knife trade in general. In response to a question about how the knife makers thought their knives might be destroyed during taping, Mercaida said, “We don’t ask anything from the contestants, we won’t do anything on the show that these gentlemen [meaning Neilson and Vilar] will not do to their own knives. And I will attest to that. »
He said he tried to break Neilson’s blades and Neilson said to him, “Is that all you got?”
“We will not judge someone else’s work if they themselves have not [tested it] themselves.” Mercaïda added.
At the Arkansas State Cutting Competition, which followed the appearance of the ‘Forged in Fire’ hosts, around 15 knifemakers tested their work and their skills against a series of challenges.
First, they competed to see who could use their knife to hack a two-by-four in the fastest time. Second, they were awarded points, or not, based on their ability to cut a thick, dangling rope in half so that the cut piece fell into a bucket below.
Third, they swung their blades over a downward sloping row of Dasani water bottles, often creating spectacular splashes. Fourth, they tried to cut a red tennis ball in half as it rolled out of an inclined tube at high speed along with several other colored balls. Finally, they used their knife points in a blind attempt to pick up a five-card hand whose value could beat their competitors.
Throughout the hour and a half of knife play, Master Blacksmith Jerry Fisk from nearby Nashville regaled the audience with lively, hilarious commentary and hands-on commentary on the trades of blacksmithing and competitive cutting. His most frequent advice to knives as they struck wood was, “Hit it as if you were alive.” Fast and hard!”
The Arkansas State champion for 2022 was Jim Bob Lamb, who Fisk said edged out runner-up by a two-tenths-of-a-second margin in the 2 X 4 lap.
By this point, it was 12:30 p.m. and the rest of the afternoon’s events included an oral history presentation and a lecture on Bowie knife forging by James Black. Historians Mark Zelesky and Mark Fleming chaired. A reenactment of the creation of the knife took place for the second time that day, at 3.30pm at the James Black Blacksmith Shop on Conway Street.
The final event of the day saw the two ‘Forged in Fire’ personalities perform demonstrations, again at the James Black Blacksmith Shop, and sign autographs.
James Black’s Bowie Heritage Festival is the first of its kind, but judging by turnout, this reporter admits its organizers, the City of Washington and the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Foundation, have a shot on their hands.