I have always been compelled to create. As a child, I painted in oils, played classical organ for 9 years, sewed my own clothes, wove my own fabric, drew, painted, embroidered and macraméd. While I took the required art courses in school and college, I always felt stifled in my creativity in what I was shown and told were the rules during those years.
It wasn’t until I enrolled in a Jewelry/Metals program at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York that I truly found myself as an artist. The moment I put my hands on the metal, I knew that this was what I was meant to do. The sculptural quality of art jewelry making and the direct manipulation of the metal mixed with the wonderful color and texture of various gemstones spoke to my artistic soul. While I love the high karat golds and other precious metals as well as the gemstones, I had no idea there was something missing until I discovered Damascus steel!
My soul is very happy working directly in metal. I tried casting once and hated working in wax. It cheated me of a very necessary part of the way I communicate artistically. I feel that this is why I so enjoy the process of forging the Damascus steel I make and use in my knives. I love the attention to detail that I must maintain to create the intricate and interrelated pieces of my knives. There is something very good for my soul in the act of hand sanding something that someone else would do on a grinder. That is part of how I speak as an artist. There is something magical that is imparted from within me during the lengthy process of bringing something from a simple thought into a tangible creation.
My personal visual, artistic vocabulary is of Beauty. I truly love creating something that is beautiful, with all parts flowing together as one. Doing this within the confines of the mechanisms of a folding knife or the dimensions of a dagger gives me great pleasure. To know that another human can enjoy not only the look but also the feel and weight and movement of what I create is very satisfying to me.
I am not at all sure that I know what the definition of art is. What I do know is that my knives communicate with people. The look of wonder and curiosity on someone’s face who has never thought of a knife as a creative, artistic object before tells me that I am communicating on very deep, personal level with many people. To me this is what art does.
I have been interested in knives since childhood. One of my first knife memories is of a miniature pearl-handled dagger that I kept under my pillow to fend off the monsters under my bed.
I always worked and created with my hands in some form of craft or other. I sewed my own clothes as a teenager as well as drew, painted, embroidered and macraméd. I have always loved creating things. However, I also love animals and that led to my degree in Animal Science and then on to training Arabian horses for a while after college.
Fortunately, that did not remain my chosen career. I enrolled in a Jewelry/Metals program at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. The moment I put my hands on the metal, I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I studied jewelry-making for some time, finally opening my own successful goldsmithing business. (I operated this one-woman business for 13 years before discovering knife making. I won numerous awards for my jewelry including Fourth Prize in the International Pearl Design Competition in Tokyo, Japan in 1990.) While I loved the high karat golds and other precious metals as well as the gemstones, I had no idea there was something missing until I discovered Damascus steel!
I had seen photographs of Damascus steel and some ancient swords but it was not until I met James Schmidt and saw his knives that the magic of this steel really took a hold over me. I was enthralled! The combination of his designs and gorgeous Damascus steel fascinated me. Mechanisms had also always intrigued me. In jewelry, I would create unique hinges and catches to satisfy this part of my creativity. I had made an unsatisfactory attempt to create a folding knife early in my goldsmithing career, but working with no proper tools or guidance other than a craft book had left me dissatisfied with my efforts. After seeing Jim Schmidt’s knives, I knew I had to make knives of Damascus steel. And I had to forge the steel myself! Jim was an exceptional human being, as well as a great artist and a great friend and will never be forgotten.
Dellana forging a billet of Damascus
Fortunately for me, Jim Schmidt was a very generous man and he kindly allowed me into his shop where he taught me the secrets of forging Damascus steel and the intricacies of creating folder mechanisms with few power tools. While I had an extensive background in metalworking techniques, this was new to me. I loved it! The act of actually forging my own Damascus steel for knife blades added a satisfaction to my art that I had not known before. I could still incorporate the aspects of jewelry that I loved in combination with the physical involvement of forging. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a bladesmith and make knives!
In 1995 I was awarded the first BLADE Magazine scholarship to attend the American Bladesmithing Society’s Bladesmithing School for a two week intensive program. This was great fun and hard work. I enjoyed myself immensely.
Within 2 years, I had gone full time into knifemaking. Up until 1998, I concentrated on folders. I currently have a 4 to 5 year waiting list.
My knives are made of the finest materials I can obtain. I use high karat golds, platinum, sterling and pure silver and the best quality gemstones. I use fossil walrus and mammoth ivories for handle material as well as presentation grade mother of pearl of various colors and also precious metals. I do all my work myself including filework, engraving, stonesetting, etc.
I forge my Damascus steel using an old power hammer and a gas forge. I do ladder patterns and twists and rosebud, as well as some unique designs. My favorite blade steel design is a composite Damascus done with a ladder patter, straight tool steel and selective etching patterns. Technically, it is difficult to do well and I find that very satisfying.
I am a Voting Member of the Knifemakers Guild as well as a member of the American Bladesmith Society.
In June of 1999 I was voted into the ART KNIFE INVITATIONAL. This is a small, prestigious group of 25 knifemakers. A new member may be voted in only when one or more of the existing members drop out. There is a show held only once every 2 years where only 175 collectors are invited to purchase knives. Collectors may attend by invitation only. The knifemakers must have a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 8 knives representing their best work for sale at the show.
My knives and I have been featured numerous times in various publications. These include: Knives Illustrated, BLADE Magazine, Knives Annuals (including the cover of Knives `98), Waffen Magazine (a German gun and knife magazine), Japanese KNIFE magazine, and La Passion des Couteaux (a French knife magazine).
I am absolutely committed to creating the most beautiful, well-crafted art knives that I am able. I firmly believe in sole authorship. This means that all work including designing, forging of Damascus steel, engraving, fabricating of precious metals, stonesetting, etc. is done only by myself. This is a major criteria for signing my name to any piece of artwork that I produce.