“You only speak that language with your family, you can’t really share it with anyone else” Chelsea Miller, Knifemaker
In every sense Chelsea’s knives cut back to her roots, and these are roots that grow deep. The elegant economy of their form and utility depends upon her local sourcing of materials, whilst the labour-intensive methods of cutting, grinding, forging and sanding integral to each knife are old knowledge, passed on to Chelsea from her father (himself a blacksmith and carpenter). These are knives with a story and the history of each piece – individually conceived, worked and assembled by hand – travels back to a place where the intimacy and independence of a hunting lifestyle meets the harsh reality of subsistence in the Northeast USA. They are generous knives, made with the love a hunter bestows on a prey animal (one of Chelsea’s first inspirations was a hunting knife made by her brother). They are also slick and incredibly sharp, as one would expect of any knife – and any artisan for that matter – found furnishing the kitchens of top class chefs such as Daniel Humm of the Michelin starred New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park.
Chelsea’s process also begins with a hunt, albeit of a less carnivorous variety. Her blades in fact start out as farrier’s rasps, traditional tools still used to sensitively trim and file the hooves of horses. She visits farms and stables around her birthplace in rural Vermont and Upstate New York collecting these steel files, which then undergo a complex and time-intensive metamorphosis involving heat and heavy-duty blacksmith’s tools before emerging as the meticulously finished blades you see here. The wooden handles also grow out of Chelsea’s local haunts; she “finds” them hidden in the densely-knotted maple, walnut and apple timber that grows around the family farm. When asked what success means to her, Chelsea articulates the need to feel constantly inspired by the extended process of sourcing and forming these objects. “Each knife just has such an incredible life of its own”.
They certainly do, and the craftsmanship of these pieces extends far beyond traditional methods and materials into highly personable forms that deftly embody their function. Each knife takes three days to complete from start to finish, with care and attention that materializes into rounded cheese knives that have the buttery softness of Vermont cheddar, and heavy-duty kitchen knives with solidity, weight and direction. “The intention in cutting is to give your energy away”, says Chelsea, “(…) so a lot of my knives are rolling forward shapes”. They recall the tools that her mother used to cook with. The original texture of the farrier’s rasp remains on one side of the blade of her larger chefs knives and microplane cheese knives for grating: not only the materiality but also the intention of the old tool is expressed through the new.
Miller’s relationship with her father is the true lynchpin holding the handles and blades of this story together. She grew up learning various smithing techniques as a young girl, and then returned to the family farm to help out her dad when he got sick. By this stage she was finished with art school and in the aftermath found her father’s desire to share his craft and his lifetime of accumulated knowledge deeply refreshing. Nonetheless Chelsea’s dad is keen to remind us of her enterprising and independent spirit.
–“She’s a lot like me, she wants to do everything herself”, he chuckles.
Now living and working out of a studio in Brooklyn NY, it seems that much of Chelsea’s success is born of the craving for quality and integrity that preoccupies so many of us city-dwellers in the midst of fast-paced disposable culture. Still hungry, we praise her ability to provide us with something real to gnaw on.