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, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 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.
Festival schedule of events includes:
- 9:00 a.m. – Kick off with ribbon-cutting at WPA Gymnasium.
- 9:30 a.m. – “Inside the Fire” with Doug Marcaida and J. Neilson.
- 10:00 a.m. – Re-enactment.
- 11:00 a.m. – Arkansas state cutting competition.
- 12:30 p.m. – Viewing and oral history of original James Black Bowie knives.
- 2:00 p.m. – 2022 Arkansas Living Treasure Awardee announcement.
- 3:30 p.m. – Re-enactment.
- 4:00 p.m. – Doug Marcaida and J. Neilson presentation and autograph session.
For a full schedule of events, visit https://bit.ly/3rAS0cw.
The festival will be held at several venues throughout the City of Washington, including the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, the WPA Gymnasium, Washington Pavilion, and the midway area near the 1874 Hempstead County Courthouse. Admission is free, and parking is $5.00.
Special guests at the festival will include History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” judge and edged weapon 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 highlights 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. The 2022 Arkansas Living Treasure will be announced at 2:00 p.m. on the 1874 Courtyard Stage.
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 University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana 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. There is something at this festival for everyone!