Richard Dobie considers himself to be a modern knapper. He practices the art of flint knapping, the process used to produce the majority of all stone tools. There are many techniques that can be used, but the tools are generally made by removing flakes from stone or a similar material, to shape and produce a cutting tool, or a point.
“Points are an original art form,” Dobie explained. “They were used for skinning, cutting, killing... they’re bigger than one use. I think the Native Americans that were here had a big sense of God. They made tools for more than daily use; they put them in graves and buried them with their loved ones to protect them in the afterlife.”
The handmade wooden frames in Richard Dobie’s small workshop showcase just a handful of pieces from his collection of points, which numbers in the thousands.
“We have a family collection that everyone has contributed to over the years,” Dobie explained. “My father and grandfather put them in frames.”
Dobie said he has about 8-10 frames of artifacts, some measuring as big as 2 ft by 3 ft.
Born and raised on the same ranch he calls home today, Dobie is surrounded by both memories and history. “My father and grandfather loved the land; they grew cotton in the early 40’s,” he said. “The majority of my frames were built out of scrap wood, and they also contain the cotton that my father and grandfather grew, so there is a lot of historical and sentimental value to me.”
Dobie boasts a collection of books about points and flint knapping, including one that portrays his own work, and several typology books. “All points are put into types so they can be identified,” he said, as he held up an old, worn book titled “Story in Stone.” “This is like the Bible for knappers,” he said. “This is one of the first books I got; then I started building points and I really enjoyed it,”
As a modern knapper, Dobie said he is somewhere in the middle of the two ends of the spectrum when it comes to the knapping process. “I use copper, which mimics bone so well that you can use it more efficiently,” he said. “Some people use the exact methods that the aborigines used, and it’s very slow. Others cut up stone to mimic flaking, which is the modern method. It comes out so perfect and beautiful, it looks like it’s machine- made.”
Dobie uses stone, copper and antler materials, and billets and pressure flakers in the process.
“You take a flake or a cobble, generally more flat than thick. You can use a billet of stone, bone or copper to drive off the flakes.”
Dobie said the process of flint knapping has similarities to whittling, but it is less controlled. “With whittling you have more control, because you can direct how you take the wood off,” he explained, “but with stone, when you strike it you aren’t sure how it’s going to come off.”
“The modern billet I use is made from copper, and I use an abrading stone to strengthen the sharp edges. If you get going too fast you, can break it, and of course I’ve made a lot of gravel over the years,” Dobie said with a laugh.
“The fun part is the creativity of it- taking something small and creating a thing of grace and beauty.”
Dobie said his hobby and collection has somewhat of a stigma attached to it. “Archaeologists don’t want you to pick up a point, because they feel you’re robbing them of historical information. On the other hand, you have artifacts on the ground that have been moved around by natural causes. The purest archaeologists will still tell you not to touch them; but everyone does. A gross amount of historical information is lost because of pickup, but archaeologists can also get a lot of information from surface hunters, so I understand both sides,” he said.
“There is a huge interest in artifacts all over the world, from Native American points to pots and pans from ancient China,” Dobie said. “Artifacts that are sold, bought or traded have to be perfect, and finding a perfect artifact is very, very difficult. A surface collector will find thousands of broken pieces for every perfect artifact he finds in his lifetime.”
Dobie has done presentations about knapping and its history from the college level down to kindergarten. His work has been published alongside some of the best, and he travels every so often to showcase his work. He also has a booth every year at the George West Storyfest.
The majority of points in his collection were found on the ranch he calls home, and the rest were found in surrounding areas.
“I would never sell or trade my collection,” Dobie assured. “They aren’t the best artifacts, but they’re all from this area and that means a lot to me.”
Lindsey Shaffer is the regional editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 119, or at regional@mySouTex.com.