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After Project Runway, Momolu began showing at New York Fashion Week and having international shows in Nigeria and the Cayman Islands. Last year, she held a show in Monrovia. It was the first time she'd returned to the country of her birth in 21 years. After visiting overflowing orphanages — the result of two wars — Momolu founded Gracie's Gift, to collect clothes and school supplies for these children.
Momolu now splits her time between Little Rock and Manhattan. She's preparing for Fall Fashion Week 2012, and for the first time, she has financial backers. "I'll be able to sell to stores," she explained. "If you get orders, you have to be able to produce the stuff wholesale. I've shown every season so the fashion community doesn't forget who I am, but this is the first season that I'm doing a full, ready-to-wear collection. My past collections have just been drama, like gowns that you'd wear to these great events. Now I'm doing separates, offering more colors, appealing to the masses."
When she's in Little Rock, Momolu works in her River Market studio and focuses on her husband and 8-year-old daughter. "Arkansas is like Liberia to me. It's about family, and it's about loyalty. You don't have to be born here, but if you show love for this state, you can be part of it. I'm African all day long, but I feel like I'll always have a home here. And that's huge because, for the longest time, I didn't have a place to say, 'Oh, I'm going home.' "
Master bladesmith Jerry Fisk of Lockesburg is the Yoda of Arkansas when it comes to the artist's relentless, self-sacrificial pursuit of perfection.
Years ago, a reporter for Arkansas Times visited Fisk's shop. By then, he was already one of the greatest knife makers in the world, the pre-paid waiting list for his work seven years deep. During that visit, he showed the reporter several blades, each amazingly beautiful, that hadn't quite lived up to his incredibly demanding standards. He'd spent more than 30 hours collectively on those castoffs — hours spent on Hell's doorstep, so hot his denim work shirts would sometimes disintegrate — but said that they'd be taken around behind his shop and pounded into the ground with his forging hammer.
"I can go up here at the Historic Arkansas Museum, and I can see knives that are 200 years old," Fisk said. "Some of those may be the only knife that survived from a particular maker. If only one knife I make survives, what's it going to look like? I don't want to be known for a mistake."
And that is how you become the best in the world.
A former machinist, Fisk has been making knives for more than 25 years. These days, he takes his craft and vocation as seriously as any religion, traveling all over the world to absorb new techniques and skills. The best of his art simply must be seen to be believed: incredible fantasies of tusk, gold, jewels, silver, horn, bone, or ivory, all delicately inlaid and engraved, with blades of Damascus steel — layers of metal folded hundreds or thousands of times, creating patterns that look like moonlight on water.
Named a National Living Treasure by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Museum of World Cultures in 1999, Fisk is still going strong at 58.
"I don't know what to do about the orders," he said. "It's getting to be a problem. If a man on the street places a regular order, it'd be nine, 10, 11 years before I could get to it. ... I could probably work three years for just the Chinese, or work two years just for one particular client down in South America. It's kinda like having to ration it out. I can only do so much as I get older."
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