Local artist Russell Riggle works with stone to make beautiful items

Knapper artist Russell Riggle creates artistic pieces from stone. Diane Sieker photo

When you think of “art,” what comes to mind? Paintings in watercolor, oils and acrylics? Sculpture of carved stone or wood? Metal or recycled items turned into statuary?

Clear any thoughts of what art should be in the common world and discover what knapper Russell Riggle creates in his spare time.

Points, knives, arrowheads, spear heads and scrapers are all lovingly and skillfully “knapped” or shaped by striking stone with other tools so as to make a useful and beautiful item.

Knapping is the ancient skill of the shaping of flint, chert, obsidian or other “conchoidal” or fracturing stone through the process of lithic reduction to manufacture stone tools. In other words, the knapper selects pieces and types of stone that have a type of irregular fracture with planar or concentric curves, like those on a sea shell. Riggle strikes the rock to dislodge flakes which are removed in certain directions and at specific thicknesses, creating a useful and often very sharp, stone tool. Arrowheads, spear points, knives, scrapers, drills and more have been formed in this way since ancient times.

“I have been knapping right around five years now. I started when I found an arrow point and was amazed at the craftsmanship in it and was curious on how it was made,” Riggle said. “I never intended to become a flint knapper, it just kind of happened. I really liked the process and the challenge.”

Riggle uses various materials in his work. Obsidian, flint, chert, jasper, agate and even glass suit his needs. He also renders several different styles of points and blades, reflecting the various period styles used by different peoples in different times in history. The resulting tools he creates are works of art.

He produces and offers for sale such interesting and beautiful pieces as knives with shimmering black obsidian blades set in polished cactus wood handles and attached in place with real sinew, just as the Native Americans would have done. Earrings made of tiny glass and chert arrowheads, necklaces with colorful flint pendants and arrows with real stone points are all created by Riggle. His skill is among the best in the modern form of this art.

“I am self taught,” Riggle said. “I read books, watched videos and talked to other knappers through chat forums on the internet. And there was a lot of trial and error.”

Of all the substances at his disposal, Riggle prefers glass and obsidian as his favorites. Both of these modern knapping staples are available in many colors, which come alive in Riggle’s work. Each item is unique.

“Brittle and fragile materials are very difficult to work, but once you learn how, they are quite nice,” Riggle said.

Early knappers used simple hammers made of wood or deer or elk antler to shape stone tools, and Riggle carries on that tradition. He boasts an impressive collection of hammers, billets, spalling tools and punches.

“It can be a fun and also frustrating hobby at times,” said Riggle. “But overall, I like it. The challenge of turning a random rock into a point is what I like the most. It is an ever-changing puzzle with every one.”

Riggle’s exquisite art can be viewed and purchased in Anza at Outlaw Hay and Grain, (951) 763-1805 or at Mr. Happy’s Mercantile, (951) 763-2692.

Leave a Reply