Updated: Jan 15
Triad: Sword by Iron John Logan 2020
In 2020 I was contacted by a mother and father looking for a sharp sword for their son's 7th birthday. The father is a sword and knife cutting champion and they wanted a child sized sword their son could learn to cut with, and then grow into and use throughout his life. They wanted the sword to represent the boy's ancestry; either the father's Celtic/Welsh or the mother's Chinese roots. And as this is a real sword it had to have the correct dynamics to function both as a two-hander now and as a single-hander for later in his life. Everything else they left up to artist choice - which is always humbling for an artist. I said I would honored to make the project.
Though rare child sized weapons and armour do show up in the historical record, many lavishly decorated examples can be see in arms and art collections around the world. So right away I felt I needed to do something extra for this project. The historical connection between this father and his son today and past fathers and their sons was also not lost on me. Then my own love of swords as a child - the bed time stories and myths we still tell our children; of Robin hood, of King Arthur, of swords and dragons and times long past. I know I loved them as a child, I can only assume this boy does too!
Going with the father's Celtic/Welsh roots the idea of a sword instantly goes to the Arthurian Legends. While there are many different versions the Welsh tell all their own, books like Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave and Susan Cooper's The Dark is Raising series both put Arthur in the historical context of post-Roman-Wales during the beginning of the Dark ages sometime around the 5th century AD. Because of these books and others like them this "grey area" of British history has been long fascinating to me and I have long wanted to make a sword from this narrative. With the the couples approval I moved forward on a Romo-British Arthurian theme.
The real challenge was going to be the changing dynamics they wanted (read more on sword dynamics click here). Historically this is not a thing; child swords were scale copies of the adult versions and their dynamics were fixed to that scale. The balance, nodes of rotation, and harmonics would all change between switching from two-handed to single-handed use. Even "hand-and-a-half" swords that supposedly fall in the middle actually have a third different dynamic profile. While I could fudge the proportions of the grip without effecting the looks all that much, the dynamics, specially for cutting, would take some thought.
I took a step back, I wanted to see if there was anything I could connect for the boy's Chinese ancestry. As the idea of telling a story with the sword was coming to fruition I tried to find legends in Chinese traditions, but before I got very far I stumbled on a fascinating article on the use of triads in many historical cultures; from architecture, to writing and linguistics, to even how art is laid out and executed. The original Welsh Arthurian legends were written as triad poems, most Chinese folk tales and poetry are triads, even triad phrases like Mother-Father-Son, Past-Present-Future, Life-death-Rebirth have a certain "fullness" or "completeness" that lists and phrases containing other numbers do not have. This swords conception is already a triad. Could the swords construction be a triad? Its making? Its giving? Triads upon triads upon triads!
Through pictorial research of swords I right away noticed the distinct similarities between the Chinese Jian and the late Roman Spatha. Both with narrow blades and somewhat longer grip to blade ratio - while the Spatha pictured here pre-dates even the earliest Arthurian legends by a few centuries maybe it could be my ticket to get the dynamics to work - if I built the sword to the dynamics of a long handled single-handed sword, it might be exactly what I need for a short handled two-handed sword?
I knew I wanted to tell a story with the piece and just like the ancient Welsh I wanted use triads in every layer from concept, through construction, and into completion. I wanted the sword to have a Past-Present-Future and I wanted the sword to show a record of that progression. Luckily the Arthurian Legends already have these elements when talking about swords; between the Sword in the Stone, Excalibur, and his other mythical weapons there is a reoccurring theme of ancient half forgotten truths.
Francis Pryor, an eminent archaeologist and prehistorian speculates that the Sword in the Stone imagery of the Arthurian Legends most likely stems from the ancient Bronze age technique of using stone molds to cast swords. While some historians feel this is far fetched (there is over a thousand years between the use of this techniques and the penning of the Arthurian Legends) but the similarities are present. Was it long winded oral tradition or simply Medieval people seeing the remnants such molds as we do today and chalking it down as magic, we will never know. Though seeing as Arthur's next weapon, Excalibur, also comes to him via an ancient mythical way (Lady in the Lake) I feel there is some ancient truth being recorded even if the Medieval poets did not understand.
All over the British Isles and Europe ritually "killed" swords and other blades have been found in rivers, lakes, and marshy areas. Historians argue exactly when and why this practice took place, but ancient Celtic hoards like the one pictured here to Roman finds all the way up to High Medieval objects have been found deposited in water (to read more click here) - Again we can only assume how the Arthurian poets knew of this practice and why they included it in the stories we know today. But our modern link to these ancient magics is one of the draws that keep bring me back to swords and blades in my art, so I knew I wanted to somehow use it in the story of this sword.
Past, Present, Future:
Now that I had a vague idea the direction I wanted to go and that I wanted to tell a story I sat down and tried to pin point the time-line of the swords progression. Most historians suggest Arthur, if he existed, would have lived just after the fall of Rome 410 AD. Before this, Britain and Wales had been a rich Roman Provence inhabited by the Iron age Celts and soon after the age of Migration began with the invasions of the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and later the Normans. I wanted to capture this tiny historical window of post-Roman but pre-Saxon period, and I wanted it to be historically as period correct as possible.
To be continued.....