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Blade pilgrims travel far to be taught in Riverton
Galatea Kontos, left, Marissa Saneholtz and Meredith Tibjash collaborated in the Draper workshop to glue together parts of a folding knife. They came to Riverton from out of state to learn the craft. Photos by Emily Etheredge

Blade pilgrims travel far to be taught in Riverton

Jul 8, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Marissa Saneholtz traveled all the way from Certaldo, Italy, to Riverton.

Not for a vacation. To make a knife.

The Ohio native teaches jewelry-making and was living abroad when she decided to come to Wyoming to learn how to construct a premium blade from start to finish.

Saneholtz is one in a group of six women who traveled to Fremont County to take a course on knife-making from Mike and Audra Draper.

"This is the fourth year for me to come to Riverton," Saneholtz said. "I love the depth this course offers with the flexibility to construct whatever I want to construct, while staying in the Drapers' home for a week. It is wonderful."

Audra is a master bladesmith certified by the American Bladesmith Society, through which she has been teaching bladesmithing classes for the last eight years. The Drapers open their home up each summer to students who are taking the course.

"We figured that staying in our home would allow for the students to save money on hotels," Draper said. "We also get the privilege of learning from the students who come from many different parts of the country and the world to provide us with a fresh and different perspective."

Indiana resident Kimberly Jackson, 31, knew a friend who had taken the course, and Jackson thought the blade was a work of art.

"When I first saw the knife my friend made I actually cried because it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen," Jackson said.

She said the ability to construct something with her hands is an indescribable feeling.

"My brother was the one who originally got me into knives," Jackson said. "From an early age I have always been interested in them. Now I make a lot of things, and having the ability to construct a knife is awesome."

The women are working on their knives in the studio from 9 a.m. until midnight, with minimal breaks in between.

"This is hard work," Draper said. "These girls know that it requires some dedication to construct a knife, and they are willing to persevere through long days of hard work."

Galatea Kontos, 32, came from Indiana after hearing about the course from a friend.

"I heard that during the course, people were allowed to forge (at a hearth), and I love making things with fire," Kontos said. "I didn't really know anything about knives, but it is amazing to have the Draper family open up their home and be so open. They make you feel welcome, and other workshops are not the same."

The women said they know making a knife is not the typical activity for most females.

"Bladesmiths are typically middle-aged men who drink Mountain Dew," Saneholtz said. "I think it would be safe to say that we kind of defy that mold. We are just girls who enjoy making things with our hands."

All of the women attending Draper's class practice jewelry-making as a hobby or occupation, and the knives and a chasing hammer they make during the course help in the jewelry-making process.

Draper said she enjoys teaching the classes because talented students from an array of places and help to open her own horizons.

"I benefit from their knowledge," Draper said. "

These students teach us there is no reason we cannot do something just because it has never been done before."

For more information on the classes taught by Draper, call 856-6807 or visit draperknives.info.

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