9/21/2013

The Castile Knapper

It's always fun to have family members who have a bit of notoriety because of interesting pursuits. My husband's cousin, Ken Wallace is one of those.  Ken is an artist who works in stone as a flintknapper. Flintknapping is the ancient art of shaping tools and weapons from pieces of stone. Knapping was part of the survival skill set of Native Americans. Arrowheads, knives, hatchets, and more were shaped from raw pieces of flint or chert. 


Ken knapping at the Wallace Reunion
Ken became interested in this process back in 1985. One of his favorite pastimes was searching fields for arrowheads, both of which are pretty plentiful in Western New York. Freshly plowed ground in rural areas often yields many different types of arrowheads since the Iroquois were the original residents of what are now corn fields and cow pastures. Fascinated with how the Iroquois made their weapons and tools, Ken started to try and recreate them. He says a lot of trial and error were involved in the early years to imitate the arrowheads he'd found while hiking.  Eventually he perfected the technique and has made hundreds of projectile points, tools, and other interesting creations from stone and antler bone. He believes his technique is very close to those used by Native Americans. His arrowheads and other points are dead ringers for those early arrowheads. 

His process is called percussion flaking which uses primitive tools to shape the arrowheads. Hammerstones, antler billets, and wooden billets are his primary tools to strike flakes off a core piece of flint. He uses an antler tine and pushes against the edge of the flint to shape or notch the object. An arrowhead can usually be created in a half hour. Larger and more complex pieces can take a couple of hours. Ken wants some aesthetic quality in the objects, so he says that Native Americans were probably faster. However their goals were utilitarian and focused on survival.

Flint, as you  might guess is the most common stone used. You're probably imagining an arrowhead with its chipped surface attached to an arrow shaft. Flint and chert have quartz-like properties and flake easily for shaping into useful objects. The stone, because of its layers sharpens up nicely into a deadly point, easily bringing down game. It's also pretty effective against your enemies in battle too. No wonder it was the stone of choice. Obsidian is another type of stone that's popular with knappers and the finished product is quite showy. 

Ken's expertise has landed him some interesting speaking engagements and he founded the Letchworth Stone Tool Craftsman Show. Back in 1990, he began inviting fellow flintknappers and friends over for a "knap-in" at his home on Labor Day weekend. It quickly outgrew his backyard and relocated to Letchworth State Park. The show recently celebrated 24 years and is now a huge three-day show drawing people from all over the United States. He also has a popular YouTube channel called Paleoman 52 which features videos of his projects, hikes, and knapping tools. Here's a link to a recent video posted by Ken. 


Ken's passion for knapping has only increased over the years and he told me that he's "in it for the long haul." Just as a sculptor carefully chooses the right stone, Ken does the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale. He likes to experiment with other materials and knapped a striking blue blade from a piece of glass. Be sure to check it out on YouTube. 

The preservation of the past, and the desire to create something beautiful from the ordinary are all in a day's work for the flintknapper of Castile.  

1 comment:

ed said...

Tell ken he is appreciated. He really makes very informative videos about Letchworth. Maybe Ken would donate some of his you tubes to Ny state for their website.

Positively encouraging

9/21/2013

The Castile Knapper

It's always fun to have family members who have a bit of notoriety because of interesting pursuits. My husband's cousin, Ken Wallace is one of those.  Ken is an artist who works in stone as a flintknapper. Flintknapping is the ancient art of shaping tools and weapons from pieces of stone. Knapping was part of the survival skill set of Native Americans. Arrowheads, knives, hatchets, and more were shaped from raw pieces of flint or chert. 


Ken knapping at the Wallace Reunion
Ken became interested in this process back in 1985. One of his favorite pastimes was searching fields for arrowheads, both of which are pretty plentiful in Western New York. Freshly plowed ground in rural areas often yields many different types of arrowheads since the Iroquois were the original residents of what are now corn fields and cow pastures. Fascinated with how the Iroquois made their weapons and tools, Ken started to try and recreate them. He says a lot of trial and error were involved in the early years to imitate the arrowheads he'd found while hiking.  Eventually he perfected the technique and has made hundreds of projectile points, tools, and other interesting creations from stone and antler bone. He believes his technique is very close to those used by Native Americans. His arrowheads and other points are dead ringers for those early arrowheads. 

His process is called percussion flaking which uses primitive tools to shape the arrowheads. Hammerstones, antler billets, and wooden billets are his primary tools to strike flakes off a core piece of flint. He uses an antler tine and pushes against the edge of the flint to shape or notch the object. An arrowhead can usually be created in a half hour. Larger and more complex pieces can take a couple of hours. Ken wants some aesthetic quality in the objects, so he says that Native Americans were probably faster. However their goals were utilitarian and focused on survival.

Flint, as you  might guess is the most common stone used. You're probably imagining an arrowhead with its chipped surface attached to an arrow shaft. Flint and chert have quartz-like properties and flake easily for shaping into useful objects. The stone, because of its layers sharpens up nicely into a deadly point, easily bringing down game. It's also pretty effective against your enemies in battle too. No wonder it was the stone of choice. Obsidian is another type of stone that's popular with knappers and the finished product is quite showy. 

Ken's expertise has landed him some interesting speaking engagements and he founded the Letchworth Stone Tool Craftsman Show. Back in 1990, he began inviting fellow flintknappers and friends over for a "knap-in" at his home on Labor Day weekend. It quickly outgrew his backyard and relocated to Letchworth State Park. The show recently celebrated 24 years and is now a huge three-day show drawing people from all over the United States. He also has a popular YouTube channel called Paleoman 52 which features videos of his projects, hikes, and knapping tools. Here's a link to a recent video posted by Ken. 


Ken's passion for knapping has only increased over the years and he told me that he's "in it for the long haul." Just as a sculptor carefully chooses the right stone, Ken does the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale. He likes to experiment with other materials and knapped a striking blue blade from a piece of glass. Be sure to check it out on YouTube. 

The preservation of the past, and the desire to create something beautiful from the ordinary are all in a day's work for the flintknapper of Castile.  

1 comment:

ed said...

Tell ken he is appreciated. He really makes very informative videos about Letchworth. Maybe Ken would donate some of his you tubes to Ny state for their website.