By Brian D’Ambrosio
Bladesmith Mardi Meshejian creates knives that shout with color and contrast, conveying the dignity, beauty, and intricacy of a craft that dates back thousands of years and across multiple continents.
The son of a jeweler, the 51-year-old New York City native worked with metal and jewelry from a young age. He would often attend knife shows with his father and initially attended school to become a jeweler like his dad, earning an associate’s degree in applied science at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. However, Meshejian ultimately found knifemaking to hold more creativity for him. So, he switched his focus to blades, attending blade smithing classes in Arkansas, a hotbed for the craft.
Meshejian moved to Santa Fe in 2002, and began making knives full-time then. While he claims to have only begun to truly hone his craft in the past five years, his knives have been displayed in museums across the country for their craftsmanship – no less than organic sculptures of blended materials, cultures, and colors.
Meshejian’s work is unique in that it borrows from Italian, Irish, Persian, and Japanese antiquities, and then pushes traditional boundaries with a modern edge. The prospect of giving life to a new sheen or style, he says, is exhilarating.
“For the most part,” Meshejian said, “the knifemaking world likes the literal, whether in its figure carvings or engravings. … I try doing things that get attention and mix cultures.”
For example, he said, “Color is something that the business doesn’t have a lot of. I’m not big on sticking to one look. I like to work with more abstract, organic tendencies. Instead of the very conventional, I enjoy bright colors that break with tradition.”
The hues in his knives appear subtle at first, but the patina of his handle construction unfolds and blooms as one looks deeper. His ornamentations include copper, titanium, fossilized walrus ivory, mammoth ivory, and 300- to 1,000-year-old petrified slabs of beach-washed sled runners made by ancient Eskimos and found on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska.
The use of forging is what makes some blades stand apart from the mediocre. It is also the forge that endears Meshejian to those who admire power, fire, vibrancy, the mood of the flames, the beauty of a scorching coal, and the smoky, sopping smell of a cooled iron.
“Forging is about 20 percent of what I do,” Meshejian said from the barn full of forges, grinder belts, and homemade shaping tools that serves as his studio. The other 80 percent of his work consists of hammering, shaping, and adding design elements.
And then there is the wood, which Meshejian describes as “its own addiction.”
Meshejian often decorates his knives with blood wood, an exotic wood known for its innate red color, or Pernambuco, a rare, exotic hardwood that’s reddish-orange in color.
“Wood, stone, and fossil ivory are such beautiful material and you can get caught up in just the material (on its own),” he said. “To be able to use it for work or art is a good bonus. … Each wood has its own vibration and feeling.”
Meshejian’s work has been exhibited at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock, Ark., the Canton Museum of Art in Canton, Ohio, and the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, Tenn. Such acknowledgements are vital to Meshejian, who believes the artistry behind bladesmithing should be admired, even loved, and that viewing knives in a gallery or museum setting can often offer a more comfortable entrée into the craft for people who are apprehensive about knives.
“I do as many museum shows as I can to get the knives into the fine art realm,” Meshejian said. “I consider knifemaking an artistic medium…Knives bring people in to understand the art, and the art brings people in to understand the knives.
“It’s nice to be able to work for myself and to create things for a living. That’s an honor to be able to do that, to put beauty into the world – that’s my expression.”