Mastersmith Lin Rhea Honored As Arkansas Living Treasure

Mastersmith Lin Rhea Honored As Arkansas Living Treasure

Master bladesmith Lin Rhea was recently recognized as an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council.

Knifemaker, blacksmith, teacher … Lin Rhea has many titles. Hang another one on the master craftsman—living treasure.

That honor was bestowed upon him by the folks in his home state with Rhea recently being named the Arkansas Arts Council’s 2023 Arkansas Living Treasure. The annual award—chosen through a panel of independent judges—recognizes masters of traditional crafts and folk art in the state, of which Arkansas has a rich and wide-ranging tradition. Since the award’s inception in 2002, it has honored craftsmen (and women) from basket makers to log-cabin carpenters. Given Rhea’s propensity for traditional knifemaking and blacksmithing techniques, the Arkansas native fits right in the honor roll.

“Lin Rhea is an outstanding addition to the Arkansas Living Treasure program,” Mike Mills, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said in a news release. “He has contributed so much to the rich creative culture of Arkansas.”

Rhea is the second bladesmith to earn Arkansas Living Treasure recognition. In 2007, James R. Cook of Nashville, Ark., was recognized for his contributions to the craft.

Rhea has been a blasdsmith for more than 20 years and earned his master bladesmith rating through the American. Bladesmithing Society. He studied the craft at the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing, centered at Arkansas’ Old Washington State Park. And he is known as an avid and expert historian of the state’s knifemaking tradition.

Along those lines, he presented the finer points of James Black and his creation—the Bowie Knife—at the 2023 BLADE Show Texas. The seminar not only delved into the technological advancements Black introduced to knifemaking but the ethical considerations of reproducing his work. This is a hot-button topic, given Black never signed his work.

Despite rooting himself in the traditional aspect of knifemaking, Rhea also has a keen eye for advancing the craft. Perhaps one of his more notable endeavors to this end is his X-Rhea knife, which he set out as a personal challenge to create a knife—handle and all—from a single piece of steel. As always, he turned to two tools to complete the task—fire and steel.

“Moreover, I wanted it to look good and be comfortable and as structurally sound as any good knife should be, without being overly heavy,” Rhea said in a 2021 BLADE Magazine article he authored on the genesis of the X-Rhea Knife.

As for being recognized as an Arkansas Living Treasure, Rhea admits to being quite humbled.

“I’ve gone back and looked at other videos the museum (Historic Arkansas Museum) has produced of the other Living Treasures and I know one or two of them personally, and I’ve known them for quite some time,” Rhea said, in an Arkansas Times article, “But to be associated with that group is quite an honor.”

Rhea will be honored with a reception 4-7 p.m. June 17 at Little Rock’s Historic Arkansas Museum. This coincides with the reopening of the museum’s Knife Gallery, which displays several of Rhea’s creations.

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