THE YOUNG SMITH
FROM QUEBEC WITH A PORTUGUESE SURNAME
When I was struck by Antoine Marçal's superb
Scramseax I found it
interesting that his surname was Marçal, but since he was
posting from Québec, I thought it was a French name.
He posted the knife the first time at
Don Fogg's and of all his work, the superb san
mai Scramseax caught my eye and attention instantly. It
now lays on a coffee table in my living room.
Antoine described to me his past, as an introduction to his
I was born in France, near Paris in 1972, from a Portuguese
father and a Spanish mother.
When I was three years old, the whole family moved to Canada to
a small village in the province of Quebec. I spent most of my
childhood in the country, on my father's farm. As an adolescent
we moved to Montreal where I pursued studies in fine arts.
At the end of Cegep (sort of college in Quebec), I was at a
crossroad. Still very much driven by the arts, I did not feel
comfortable with the fine arts milieu and gallery world.
Instead of continuing higher studies, I was given the
opportunity of going west of the country in British Columbia.
I went there unsure of what I would do with my young life, but
at least I told myself I was going to learn some English and meet
interesting people, if nothing else. And indeed there was.
After some traveling around I found an art school in a small town: the
Kootenay School of Arts, Nelson.
It is there I took my first official blacksmithing course. It was there
also that I had my first contact with a living blade smith.
It was I guess a revelation. In this craft I could link many interests I
had Arts, Craft, Science, History and Myths.
At 21, after two years of study, I came back to Quebec where I worked for
different blacksmithing shops. In parallel, I was setting up my own place
patiently ( one of the essentials quality a craftsman has to develop!).
I am now working in a cooperative ironwork shop with other craftsmen and
women, creating sculptural work, utilitarian and public art.
I'm putting more and more emphasis on blade making and research on ancient
metallurgy (damascus and bloom steel).
I live in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec with my girlfriend Sabrina and our 9
month daughter Eleonore.
BLADESIGN: Antoine, for how long have you been working as a smith? Your
san mai Scramseax is of such beauty and quality that one would think you
carry upon your shoulders 10 or more years of experience with fire and the
behavior of different steels…
A.M.: Thank you Antonio.
I've been smithing for about seven years now. I've put emphasis on blade
smithing increasingly for the past 5-6 years.
Learning and practicing blacksmithing first was a good thing; it allowed
me to learn how metal behaves, temperatures of work, etc. Basically an
understanding of forging that I could develop before going into finer
blade smithing work.
BLADESIGN: You mentioned that it was at the
Kootenay School of Arts that you
first came into contact with blacksmithing and with a living blade smith.
Was he very influential in your work? Has any other blade smith played an
important part in your journey?
A.M.: When I met him, I realized that it could be done. I guess I'm a
follower of Saint Thomas, I believe what I see!
Since then, many craftsmen have influence me, not only in blade smithing.
I've worked in ironworks with Venitio Casasola, making railings for
staircases and furniture. He was very influential in the sense that he
showed me patience, precision (still working on that ha ha!!) and more
important the love of a job well made. He's the one who told me that
memorable sentence: “ Don't worry Antoine, the most difficult are the
first 25 years!!” .
Blade wise, Henri Viallon, Christophe Deringer, Pascal
Coupry, Dominic Bergiel that I've met. And many knife makers
that I've met only virtually like Don Fogg.
Of course there is dozens of other people met only briefly over the years,
who provided me with inspiration.
BLADESIGN: Earlier you also mentioned that you were not comfortable with
the fine arts milieu or the gallery world. It would be interesting to know
what were the reasons that made you uncomfortable.
Mmmmmm. Talking about me and my work is not something that comes easy
At the time I felt that I had to “justify” the fact that I was doing what
I was doing. I often found that art milieu over-intellectualized one's
I'm a very instinctive artist, what people say and how they react to my
work is, I think, much more relevant.
There is a tendency in the past years to bring crafts closer to
contemporary art. It is a good thing in some aspect, but sometimes I'm
afraid that it could lead to lose the work behind a veil of rules and
That's probably why I feel attracted to outsider and “primitive” art. Only
the primitive pull of creativity.
Today I realize that often people that ask about my “creative statement”
are probably more only curious about what I do. I'm I getting wiser?...he
he he !
personally don’t see a difference between Art and Craft in it selves
whenever creativity elements are present. What I feel however is that art
has been alienated to such a level during the last quarter of the 20th
Century that it has lost, in the one hand, plenty of credibility by the
mercantilism manipulation it had suffered at the hands of some less
scrupulous “patrons” of the arts, while on the other hand, technological
developments have helped change its physical appearance. On the other hand
the notion of Art that was born during the Renaissance is now undergoing
deep changes again, for which reason there is presently a no-man’s-land in
So it is not a question of getting wiser but of choosing which milieu you
feel more comfortable.
I wonder what you think about this, considering that in the arts you have
a history of the arts in its philosophical, religious, political and
My questions are:
Do you think that a craftsmen – no matter in which area - requires the
same level of aesthetical education than an artist, the same philosophical
My other question is, you speak about instinct and I very much agree at
length with you. But… does instinct is not something that comes with miles
and miles of journeying?
A.M.: Working with matter, no matter what medium, Is a deep
undergoing. It is hard to describe all the emotions and thoughts that one
can go trough when making something. It is sometimes very zen, other times
a battle is going on...Artist or craftsman it is important for me to have
a curiosity about the world. As for the philosophical journey, spending so
much time alone in such an intimacy with matter, it brings someone to look
at thing in different ways, yes, you could talk of philosophy...You spend
a lot of time thinking when you hand polish a blade!
For me, instinct is at the base of things, experience and education will
modify how this instinct is shown to the world.
BLADESIGN: Let me explain. I felt a very strong attraction to the
Scramseax that I acquired from you. It told me that the san mai layers
were unique, the hybridation of a Western sword shape with the san mai
technique was extremely well succeeded. It was a purchase based on
instinct. But here is again: how much of instinct is accumulated
A.M.: Creativity or “creative instinct” is something that calls on
me since I was a child. It is very strong in me. In other people it is
In my educational environment, I learned I could make things, and later
create “art”, use that instinct in a channeled way. School changed the way
this instinct came out of me.
Some people never have the chance of having this shown to them. But this
instinct is still present. Growing. They might not even know it is there.
But one day is comes out, no matter their “limited” experiences.
I could not explain otherwise the work of an
Adolf Wolfi, a
Cheval or the work of almost any outsider artist. Aesthetical education is
a blessing but sometimes a curse. It gave me a discipline in fusioning
elements, what works, but this discipline can become a straight jacket at
times. It has stop me from experimenting in the past.
Blade making is a way I chose out of different experiences in my life,
people I met. If my life would have been different, I would still be
creating something, but in a different way, perhaps another medium.
BLADESIGN: Do you work alone? Does any member of your family
participates in your work?
My girlfriend Sabrina started carvings for her jewellery, and wishes to
carve handles in the near future...
BLADESIGN: That is most interesting. I know of Vince Evans whose wife
also does the carving of his daggers.
Now there is a question to finalize: do you see a continuity of your work,
can you foresee evolution in the horizon? In other words, are you
considering opening up to other styles of making blades, and are you
considering swords? Would you tell me something about it?
A.M.: South East Asian blades are starting to attract me the more I
see them. The various cultures of that area of the world have made weapons
whose shapes are quite alien to an European inspired maker like me.
Damascus is definitely an area I want to explore intensively. I barely
scratched the surface of this wonderful material, different patterns,
different materials. It breathes life in a piece, it can be strong and
fierce or soft and smooth...I wish to continue exploring damascus combined
with a san mai construction , san mai is a technique that has a great
decorative and technical appeal, and is more difficult to master than I
I think that I'll continue in the vein of mixing influence in the
future... I have trouble being faithful to one type of blade so they often
become hybridated in some way...Ancient European and South Asian are
pretty much veins I want to explore.
I have almost finished my sword heat treat set up. I started to make blade
in the optic of making swords, but soon discovered that one step at a time
was best... Swords are something I want to make for a long time!
All those project are all under the umbrella of ancient metallurgy. I made
a few experiments already and ancient steel making technique will one day
play ,I hope, a major role in my work.
Thank you Antonio for this wonderful opportunity, you have been very
kind... and very patient!!
Some of Antoine
Marçal's work, a Canadian smith of Portuguese origin, like myself.
The world is a small place... and Antoine is already more than a promise.
His work is developing now, as said by him, through increasing
hybridation. This is the vocabulary of today, where the world has shrunk
in terms of information and communication through the internet.