Art on the Knife-Edge

Artists create works from diverse materials every day. Some are really unusual, such as deer antlers, giraffe shin bones or even rare Russian mastodon tusks. But great things can come of such stuff as this.

If you’re one of the 60 to 70 members of the S.C. Assocation of Knifemakers, you could fashion these exotic materials into knife handles, command high prices for your handmade blades, and even end up showing them at the South Carolina State Museum.

These uncommon – and uncommonly beautiful – materials and more comprise the State Museum’s new exhibit The Art and Craft of South Carolina Knifemakers, which opens Nov. 18 in the museum’s 401 Gallery.

The show aims “to illustrate the ability and artistry of these people, some of whom have been making knives for more than 30 years,” says Chief Curator of History Fritz Hamer. “And also to show that there is still an interest in our society in real craftmanship.”

In an age of mass-production by machines, the exhibit will contain knives hand-tooled by 30 to 40 dedicated South Carolinians.

The knives on display have been chosen to signify a variety of functions, materials and techniques, the curator says. Guests can admire between 50 and 75 beautiful hunting, carving, throwing and pocket knives.

There also may be some presentation knives, with very fine inscriptions or scenes inscribed on the handles or elaborate designs on the blades. Perhaps even a few dirks, or short swords.

In addition, says Hamer, the raw materials will be displayed and two videos will show museum guests “the different stages that take the maker from raw steel to a pre-form which gives the idea of what the knife will look like, and then to the blade at near completion.”

Museum guests will have a chance to observe the crafting of these beautiful tools first-hand on Dec. 3, when the museum holds a Member Day themed around the knifemakers exhibit.

In addition to viewing these unique creations, guests will be able to purchase knives directly from the makers that day, and also to see live demonstrations of knifemaking techniques. And members will enjoy special activities designed just for them.

Hamer adds that people will discover in the exhibit “that there are people in this state that know how to make knives from scratch, and who make some of the most exquisite pieces you could imagine.

“Plus, it illustrates the ability of people in our state and nation to make things of quality that would seem to have been lost in our consumer society.”