|THE SMITH WITH THE SIGN OF THE
most of Jesus Hernandez pieces, one observes that he signs them
with a splendidly designed logo that depicts a bull, symbol of his
beautiful native Salamanca
and its ancient University.
When I came across his
after seeing one of his pieces at Don Fogg’s Forum, I was struck by the
good taste, the quality, the uniqueness and the technique.
But far and foremost, I was very impressed with his golden hued forge
tiger blades, the impressive way he does
blades with very unique strands coming out, as well as his mokume work
that reflects in his
in which he introduces a copper coating into some of the damascus layers.
All this versatility and innovative spirit indicated a very versatile
smith with enough restleness to not be accommodative.
Jesus Hernandez was born in Zamora and grew up in
Salamanca, Spain in 1966 spending most of his life in Salamanca.
His province of Salamanca is part of the Duero river system
that, when reaching Portugal, changes the name to Douro, meaning
“made of gold”. I was happy to see a smith from Spain, whose people the
Portuguese call nuestros hermanos (our brothers).
Hernandez developed an interest in swords early in his life, but it
never materialized until recently. First driven into the world of blade
making as an interest in Japanese martial arts. A practitioner of Kendo
for eight years and
Shinkendo for six years as a student and two years as a teacher.
Also he calls himself a modest collector of Japanese swords. The interest
in collecting swords came from developing an appreciation as to the
complexity involved in the making of the sword and the need to have first
hand examples from which one can study. This avid instinct for learning
carried him into a need to put to practice what he had read on the few
available books in English about Japanese sword making. As such he started
a journey in which trial and error and the process of observing other
blade makers has taken him into an endless road.
His professional career as a physician took him to the United
States for training in 1990, where he met his wife Christine. This
relationship resulted in a move to the USA in 1992 to complete his medical
degree and eventually establish a medical practice in rheumatology.
These days when he is not busy seeing patients, he dedicates his time to
the art of making blades and enjoys meeting other bladesmiths so that he
can learn from them and improve on what he has accomplished on his own.
He now resides in Huntsville, Alabama.
SALAMANCA AND THE
ACJ: You grew up in
Salamanca, city of an ancient University. At that time had you been
feeling an urge to make knives since it is not too far from Toledo?
JH: Salamanca is all centered around academia and even though
Toledo was close by, as a teenager my only focus were academics. I was
aware of my ability to use my hands to create things but my focus -somewhat
enforced by my parents- were my mental skills. In Spain, bladesmithing as
many other crafts, are taught to the next generation within the family and
kept in “secrecy”, thus not allowing for any outside learning. As I kid I
developed a fascination with knives when I received a knife from my father
as a present for academic accomplishments. That knife was soon after
stolen but I have never forgotten it.
ACJ: You mean a cuchillo or a navaja? How were/are knives
regarded in Spain by the average citizen? Are they frowned upon? As you
know these attitudes are part of very specific cultures. It is a question
to allow readers to understand the circumstance and environment.
JH: The gift was a puñal. You just made me think
about the fact that there are many different words in the Spanish language
to refer to the different types of blades. The navaja being
regarded as the weapon of the bandolero is probably the one
with the most mystique among Spaniards. In other times people will carry a
navaja as an indispensable tool, utensil and as a defensive
item as well.
understand you established yourself as a rheumatologist who spends
a lot of time with his noble practice. The question is, how does a
doctor find time to practice and teach Shinkendo, and make blades,
specially the way you make them?
JH: The short answer: I don’t know. I guess that if you
like to do something and that something makes you happy then you
manage to make the time for it. But my busy schedule is one of the
reasons that my production is so scarce. It takes me a good two to
four months on average to complete any project.
ACJ: Well, they are all hand made and you are not a factory (chuckles).
Would you feel that if you produced more, wouldn’t Jesus Hernandez
run the risk of being over abundant? Wouldn’t that make your
blades too easy to have so to speak?
JH: Certainly. I’m trying to do this for fun not for profit
and hopefully people will appreciate the amount of work put into
ACJ: In fact I have noticed in your website that some of your
blades are not for sale. Why is that so? Is it because they have
been sold or because you think they represent landmark steps on
|your process and
therefore you prefer to keep them, or both?
JH: A little bit of everything.
Some are important steps in my learning process. Others have become
gifts. And others, well I just can’t part with them.
ACJ: I have mentioned in the introduction that you are very
eclectic in what you do. Why is that, if you are a nihon-tô collector?
Is forging and smithing different from the appeal you have for
JH: I enjoy learning new things. My brain constantly seeks new
knowledge and as such I pursue different avenues as I walk the path of
my existence. I am in a never ending pursue to accomplish something
and to do it right. I just have not figured out yet what is it that I
ACJ: Sometimes there may not be a reason, but in your case, what
makes you want to make knives?
JH: Two reasons: to prove to myself that I can do it and
because I am happy when I am making knives.
SHINKENDO AND BLADESMITHING
ACJ: Very legitimate
reply. Nothing like a sense of fulfilment, indeed. It is an irreplaceable
feeling. However I cannot fail to notice that the amount of Japanese style
swords and knives are just a very small part of your production. The
question is: being a Shinkendo sensei, are you not drawn into making your
JH: Yes. My early steps were focused on the Japanese blade alone.
But then my ecletic nature moved me away from that path. But not too far
ACJ: Does Shinkendo
practice translate into your blade making? If so, how? That would be
interesting to know.
JH: From the practical perspective only. Part of Shinkendo is the
learning of tameshigiri (test cutting). As such tameshigiri is practiced
for two purposes: To test the ability of the sword to cut and to test the
ability of the swordsman to cut. Nowadays the focus is on the swordsman’s
skill but from my perspective as a blade maker it helps me to make better
blades knowing what will be practical for cutting purposes.
ACJ: You mentioned
before that you like to explore different avenues, and that is absolutely
visible in your
work. What is it that you strive for? Technical innovation as a modern
alchemist, technical and shape innovation? What drives you to make a knife?
An idea that happens suddenly or more of a calculated diversified path? In
other words, how much planning ahead is there or how much a certain idea
can strike you?
JH: A bit of both. Sometimes an idea just pops in my mind. But
there is always a pencil and paper phase in my work.
As the interview
reaches its end, it becomes evident that it is just a glimpse on the
personality that made work that immediately impressed me to the extent of
inviting Jesus Hernandez to participate on the
Masters of Fire
Exhibition, to take place on such a distant place from him. He
responded positively and I must say I am most pleased that he have agreed
all photographs copyright
by Jesus Hernandez
interview by António Conceição Júnior 2005 -
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