Louie Mills (1944-2018)

I just received word that Louie Mills (Yasutomo – 康友) has moved on to the next stage of life, passing peacefully in his sleep this morning. A friend to many and generous with his knowledge and craft. He will be missed on this side but we hope to see him again soon under far better circumstances.

One of the best-kept secrets in North American bladesmithing and the closest thing we had to a living (inter)national treasure, Louie Mills began creating traditional Japanese swords in the early 1980’s. Working with top Japanese swordsmiths to refine his techniques, he became known for the finest traditional Japanese swords made in North America.

“My interest in Japanese swords began around 1974. Enjoying working with steel, but unable to afford to become a collector, I decided to learn how to make them myself. I started by taking basic blacksmithing craft courses, followed by self-instruction through reading, pictures, and trial and error (mostly error). In 1980, I met the Yoshihara brothers at the ABANA conference which, subsequently, enabled me to work with them on three occasions (workshops and public demonstrations), where I learned the basics of traditional Japanese bladesmithing.” — Louis Mills (from togiarts.com)

Louie Mills & Jim Kelso with ocean motif wakizashi, 1985
Louie Mills (left) & frequent collaborator Jim Kelso (another long-time inspiration) with ocean motif wakizashi, 1985

“Working with Louis was a major milestone in my career, and I am honored to have done so. I greatly admired his dedication to Japanese swordsmithing. When we met he was one of two smiths that I know of in this country taking up that extremely demanding craft. He had studied in workshops with the Yoshihara brothers. It’s easy these days, with so much information available, to perhaps not appreciate how difficult it was back then to figure stuff out to a point where you could make progress. Louis’ accomplishments in that context are really impressive.” — Jim Kelso (from bladesmithsforum.com)

Louie Mills & Jim Kelso O-tanto, Francesco Pachi Photography
Louie Mills & Jim Kelso O-tanto

Louie has continued to be an inspiration and role model to me right from my very early years of bladesmithing in the early 1990’s as I began to learn the secrets of making hamon. I was honoured when Tony Mann invited me to be part of a project to bring his video footage to the world a couple years ago and enjoyed communicating with Louie as we worked out the editing process. The 2013 forging project was a major milestone as it was the first after Louie’s recovery from a heart attack three years earlier.

Louie was featured in an episode of Steel: The Works on The History Channel, his steel making process on Don Fogg’s website, and more information about Louie and remaining available works can be found at togiarts.com.

Thanks to Tony for inviting me to be part of the project, and to Louie for allowing us to publish the footage and for being one of the pioneers of traditional Japanese swordsmithing in North America. Louie will be missed but his contribution to the bladesmithing world continues.

ありがとう、康友 さん!

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