THE SMITH WITH THE SIGN OF THE BULL

INTRODUCTION
Looking at 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 website, 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 folded twin tiger blades, the impressive way he does forged cable blades with very unique strands coming out, as well as his mokume work that reflects in his copper hunter, 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 BEGINNING

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.


THE BLADESMITH

ACJ: I 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 each piece.
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

Jesus welding

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 Japanese swords?

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 am after.

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 own blades?

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 away.

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 to appear.

 

all photographs copyright by Jesus Hernandez
interview by António Conceição Júnior 2005 - BLADESIGN

 

 
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