The City of Washington, Arkansas, in partnership with the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Foundation and Historic Washington State Park, will host the Inaugural James Black’s Bowie Heritage Festival on April 23, 2022.
The festival will celebrate James Black, the bladesmith who forged the first Bowie Knife for Jim Bowie in Washington, and promote a variety of Arkansas heritage crafts and trades.
The festival will be held at several venues throughout the City of Washington, including the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, the W.P.A. Gymnasium, Washington Pavilion, and the midway area near the 1874 Hempstead County Courthouse.
Special guests at the festival will include History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” judge and edged weapons combat specialist Doug Marcaida and “Forged in Fire” Judge and Mastersmith James Neilson. Marcaida and Neilson will judge a Bowie Knife cutting competition, facilitate a workshop, and conduct demonstrations. Three former “Forged in Fire” champions will participate in the festival – Ricardo Vilar of Nashville, Shawn Ellis of Mountain View, and Allen Newberry of Lowell.
Many other reputable bladesmiths will also be on hand, showcasing their knives and telling the stories behind each blade. Re-enactors will narrate the story of Jim Bowie’s travels and the importance of the Bowie Knife. Other folk artisans will contribute to the festival by displaying and selling heritage crafts.
Exhibits and workshops, period music, a knife show, and a knife cutting competition organized by “National Living Treasure” and Mastersmith Jerry Fisk and former “Forged in Fire” champion Ricardo Vilar, both of Nashville, Arkansas, will also be features of the festival. Resident Mastersmith at the Historic Arkansas Museum, Lin Rhea, will also exhibit and demonstrate his bladesmith skills at the festival.
In addition to showing their handmade crafts, knife makers and craft vendors will teach techniques and discuss the educational value of their trades. Several Arkansas “Living Treasures” will attend with their art and be recognized for their contributions to Arkansas traditional folk arts or crafts. These “Living Treasures” advance and preserve their crafts and heritage tools through community outreach and educating others. J. R. Cook, an Arkansas “Living Treasure” from Nashville, will tell how bladesmithing became a part of his life.
One of Arkansas’s best stories is of James Black, who forged the Bowie Knife for Jim Bowie around 1830. Black’s version of the Bowie Knife was a long, wide, and sharp blade that was strong yet flexible, topped with a coffin-shaped handle of black walnut embellished with silver studs. Jim Bowie was pleased with the knife, which became his fighting weapon used at the Alamo and in skirmishes along the way. Visitors can learn how to forge a blade at the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, where the legend of the Bowie Knife lives on.
Guests will also experience heritage/folk art, crafts, music, and dance in the unique atmosphere of a historically preserved community. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn from the past and enhance their appreciation for many genres of Arkansas heritage. There will be a dedicated kids’ corner where children can learn about heritage crafts and take home a free wooden replica Bowie knife. A variety of food vendors will also be part of the festival.
Partners in the festival with the City of Washington, the UAHT Foundation, and Historic Washington State Park include the Washington Fire Auxiliary, Arkansas Department of Heritage, and Washington Tourism.
Applications are available for heritage art crafters and bladesmiths from Mona Still at 870-648-5084 or Dolly Henley at 870-703-4826. Stay tuned for more information.