A Cut Above: Knifemaking in Arkansas

Behind every great knife is the ancient art of bladesmithing. And no other place in the world has contributed to that art quite like Arkansas.

From the advent of the Arkansas toothpick and the Bowie knife – crafted by James Black in southwest Arkansas in the 1820s and made famous by pioneer Jim Bowie – to the formation of both the Knifemakers’ Guild and the American Bladesmith Society, Arkansas has long served as the geographical center of knifemaking in America.

Of the 120 internationally recognized master bladesmiths, 12 percent are from or practice in Arkansas. What started in Washington, the home of James Black and location of the world’s first bladesmithing school, has spread across the globe.

“Arkansas is probably the single most important state when it comes to handmade knives,” says Goldie Russell, wife of the late A.G. Russell, one of the country’s most accomplished knifemakers. She joined him in the knife business in 1988 and continues to steer their beloved company.

The popularity of knifemaking in Arkansas, she says, started with Black in the 1820s and multiplied as a result of her husband’s and his colleagues’ efforts more than 150 years later, in the 1970s and 80s.

“Old Washington is where James Black’s blacksmith shop was, where he supposedly made the first Bowie knife for Jim Bowie,” Russell says. “A.G. came to Northwest Arkansas, and he created A.G. Russell knives. It was his idea to create the Knifemakers’ Guild. There were some other men who came together and created the American Bladesmith Society, which revolved around Old Washington.”

To read the complete article on About You’s website, click here