I’ve had the Atlanta Blade Show 2012 on my calendar since the 2011 show, and I’ve been looking forward to the trip from northern Indiana just as long. For a number of reasons I gave in and came to grips with the reality that there would be no return trip to Atlanta this year. Life’s unexpected twists would not allow it.
At this time last year, I was struggling with blade quality and the desire to elevate my craft through forged blades. The desire to forge was borne out of a long-time yearning to create, not necessarily because of a belief that that was the path to a better blade. Atlanta being the world’s largest knife show seemed like a great opportunity to ask questions and hopefully, develop some ideas/direction for improvement.
On Thursday morning, June 9, 2011, my wife, son and his friend, and myself headed out for Atlanta. As we waited for the doors to open on Friday, I looked through the show schedule finding various demonstrations and break out sessions. One intrigued me and seemed to fit my interests in understanding what makes a great knife. It was titled, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – 30 Years of Knife Making. The presenters name meant nothing to me at the time.
My first glimpse of the show hall and all the exhibitors was overwhelming – it was huge! All of the facets of knife making were represented from the large brand name operations to the artisans and all manner of suppliers to the craft. I was struck by the beauty of the knives and the wide range of prices among the custom makers. They looked very similar, but in many cases their prices were separated by $1000’s. Were the expensive makers trading on their names? Was there something different about the steel or the process?
It was later that morning that I was introduced to Ed Fowler. When I walked into the presentation room, the first thing I noticed was the old man at the front of the room. He simply looked out of place. He was tall and lanky, a weather hardened man with a white beard and a Montana rancher’s hat (I was one state off). He wore jeans with a big western buckle, boots that had been well worn, and a fringed leather vest. Without saying a word, this man’s character and comfort in his skin were apparent. For the next hour, Ed talked about knives. It was simply a fascinating talk. I had met the man I wanted to learn from.
July 2012, I was in Riverton, Wyoming, a guest and student at the Willow Bow Ranch. Roughly 90 hours and 7 days later, the nuanced craft of bladesmithing had been revealed to me. It was the mentoring I had been looking for, nothing short of a life and craft changing experience.
This year, I will miss the Atlanta Blade show experience…the suppliers, the craftsman, and just being with kindred spirits. I’ll also miss seeing Ed, my friend and mentor.