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Nashville bladesmith honored as Arkansas Living Treasure

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Jerry Fisk

(Reprinted by permission of the Arkansas Arts Council)

More than 100 people gathered to recognize Jerry Fisk, a master bladesmith, as the Honorary Arkansas Living Treasure during a special ceremony May 23 at the Historic Arkansas Museum.

Fisk’s family, friends and fans gathered near him. Children danced, grabbed cookies and peeked at an exhibit of Fisk’s knives. Adults shook hands, patted backs, hugged and laughed. Fisk, who lives in Nashville, has impacted Arkansans on a personal level, said Patrick Ralston, director of the Arkansas Arts Council. 

“Not only did Jerry help the Department of Arkansas Heritage and the Arkansas Arts Council start the Living Treasure program, he has long advocated for recognizing and preserving traditional crafts. He sits on the panels that choose Living Treasure recipients each year; he takes on apprentices to keep bladesmithing alive, and he teaches his craft in schools,” Ralston said. “I am honored to be able to recognize a figure who has so significantly contributed to preserving Arkansas’s heritage.”

His efforts have helped recognize 18 Arkansas crafts men and women through the Arkansas Living Treasure program, which started in 2002. Last month, six Arkansas Living Treasure recipients attended Fisk’s reception: LongHua Xu, 2019; Lorrie Popow, 2015; Jim Larkin, 2012; Winston Taylor, 2011; Larry Williams, 2006; and Leon Niehues, 2005.

Fisk has long been recognized in Arkansas, nationally and internationally as a master of a difficult, traditional craft. His knives have been featured in documentaries, magazines, museum exhibitions and private collections.

After accepting his award, Fisk said his skill 

was developed through patience. His knives are prized for the careful details he puts into each piece and the stories he folds around his work. The knives are beautiful, but Fisk stands out with his forceful personality and dedication to keeping his craft alive. 

About Jerry Fisk

Jerry Fisk of Nashville became the first bladesmith to be named a National Living Treasure in 1999. He conceived the idea for a similar award to recognize Arkansas’s traditional artists and proposed it to former Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Cathie Matthews in early to 2001.

The Department of Arkansas Heritage, along with the Arkansas Arts Council, created the Arkansas Living Treasure program based on Fisk’s idea. Each year since 2002, the Arkansas Arts Council has recognized an Arkansas artist who excels in the creation of a traditional craft and who actively preserves and advances his or her craft through community outreach and education. An independent panel of practicing craft artists and professionals in the field of craft and folk art selects the recipient based on quality of work, community outreach and total contribution to the field of traditional crafts. Fisk has served on each panel that selects the next Arkansas Living Treasure since the award’s inception.

Fisk is an internationally recognized master bladesmith with an undying love for the craft. He has taught at the Bill Moran Texarkana School of Bladesmithing in Arkansas since 1998 and has served as an advisor to the Historic Arkansas Museum. 

Among Fisk’s many awards and recognitions are the American Bladesmith Society’s W.W. Scagel Lifetime Achievement Award, the Don Hastings Award and the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Traditional Arts. He earned the title of 17th Master Bladesmith of the American Bladesmith Society in 1989. Fisk is also the only bladesmith to ever receive the William F. Moran Knife of the Year Award.

Fisk is a member of the American Bladesmith Society Hall of Fame and served as the vice president of the American Bladesmith Society from 1999 to 2008. He served on the organization’s board of directors from 1994 to 2008.

For his vision and commitment to traditional craft in Arkansas, the Arkansas Arts Council is proud to recognize Jerry Fisk as the first Honorary Arkansas Living Treasure.