Washington, Ark., in partnership with the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Foundation and Historic Washington State Park, will host the 2nd Annual James Black’s Bowie Heritage Festival on April 21 and 22, 2023, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. 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 throughout the City of Washington, including the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, the W.P.A. Gymnasium, Washington Pavilion, the Old Town Square, 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 former ‘Forged in Fire’ champion Ricardo Vilar. 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 be features of the festival. Former resident Mastersmith at the Historic Arkansas Museum, Lin Rhea, will exhibit and demonstrate his bladesmith skills at the festival. In addition, knifemakers from nine states will attend to sell and showcase their work, and craft vendors will teach techniques of their trades.
A special presentation by the Arkansas Arts Council will be made to announce the 2023 Arkansas Living Treasure Award recipient. Several other Arkansas “Living Treasures” will attend with their art and be recognized for their contributions to Arkansas traditional folk arts and crafts. These “Living Treasures” advance and preserve their crafts and heritage tools through community outreach and educating others.
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 experience heritage/folk art, crafts, music, and dance in the unique atmosphere of a historically preserved community. Visitors will also 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. Entertainment will include a presentation by Doug Marcaida and Ricardo Vilar, the Common Ground Band, storytelling, Clarke Buehling, Rackensack, Arkansas Arts Council Living Treasures, the Washington Vintage Dancers, and Southwest Arkansas Taekwondo.
Parking for the festival will be $6.00.
Partners in the festival with the City of Washington, York Gary/Futrell Marine, Arkansas’ Great Southwest, and Historic Washington State Park include Mid-South Steam Boiler and Engineering, Fulton Grass, Garretts Sporting Goods, Farmers Bank & Trust, the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Foundation, Rowe Industries L.L.C., W.E. Beasley Bladesmith, Herndon Fuqua Funeral Home, Hollis Heating & Air, SWEPCO, and Tyson.
For more information, contact Mona Still at 870-648-5084 or Dolly Henley at 870-703-4826 or visit facebook.com/visitwashingtonar.