Functional Art for Everyday Life

A tumultuous year of sheltering and staying in place forced many of us to seek comfort in the simplest of pleasures: a homegrown tomato, a chair placed within a small spotlight of sun, a homecooked meal, and the perfect tools with which to make it. Without the typical distraction of our normally busy lives, the small things took on greater significance.

British textile designer William Morris once famously said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” That sentiment is shared by Corey Milligan, Founder of New West KnifeWorks, whose aim is to make functional art for everyday life.

Bold, colorful, and begging to be displayed, NWKW knives are not simply utilitarian. Each is a mini piece of art, as heirloom worthy as a Piaget watch; their resilience recently illustrated when a Napa fire victim lost nearly everything, save for the charred remains of his NWKW kitchen knives, one of which the company was able to restore.

With colorful handles and etched details, each knife pairs the ultra-sharp sleekness of Eastern-style chef’s knives with a western edginess and toughness. “We aim to bring more joy to everyday chores by making tools that are as beautiful as they are useful,” said Milligan. The self-taught cook founded his company in 1997 after failing to find kitchen tools with which he was satisfied. “I thought, ‘here is a tool I use all the time; I like to make things; let’s see if I can make my own knife.’ That morphed into an understanding of how knives are made, and I realized I could do it better myself.”

And he has. With a team of artisans in Victor, Idaho, Milligan has established NWKW’s reputation as one of the country’s leading knifemakers. Reviews from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Food and Wine, and Sunset Magazine have lauded the unique combination of form and function. Bon Appetit hailed the nimble Jackson Hole-based company – that continues to refine its cutting-edge wares – as creating “the perfect balance of power and grace.”

“We aim to bring more joy to everyday chores by making tools that are as beautiful as they are useful.”

In addition to its production line, Milligan has recently built a state-of-the-art forge at the factory to highlight the work of knifemaking prodigy Jack Rellstab. Rellstab’s exquisite, hand-forged Damascus blades push the craft of knifemaking to the level of fine art, bringing the passion of a poet to the heat of the forge. “As artists, you never really achieve perfection,” said Rellstab. “It doesn’t exist anywhere but in your head. So striving to create something as close to your vision as you can possibly make it is what we’re trying to do. When someone picks up one of my knives, my hope is that they’re taken aback by it. That they didn’t know something like that could exist.” NWKW’s St. Helena shop features a rotating array of Rellstab’s custom knives as well as those from other prominent American bladesmiths.

Although NWKW knives are indeed objets d’art, the company remains focused on the utilitarian aspect of its product. Local restaurants such as Goose & Gander, PRESS, and Solbar present NWKW knives to guests, and many Napa Valley chefs use NWKW knives in their kitchens. Then there are the everyday cooks, such as local writer Allison Levine who included NWKW knives in a recent Napa Valley Register column, ‘Five Items Getting Me Through Home Life,’ in which she lauds their beauty and efficacy. “They are gorgeous, sharp, and sturdy,” said Levine.

Knives this beautiful deserve an equally beautiful way to display them, and NWKW custom, one-of-a-kind “Rock Blocks” and “Resin Magnets” provide the perfect platform. “We wanted to make something that celebrates the beauty of these fine tools, that are beautiful in and of themselves, but also inspire you to take them down, put them to use, and create something delicious to share with your loved ones,” said Milligan, whose appreciation for fine art is also now demonstrated with his opening of New West Fine Art, a gallery next to his flagship Jackson store that features the works of Jackson native Conor Liljestrom, a rising star of Western contemporary art.

In addition to making an impact in the kitchen, Milligan strives to impact each community in which NWKW finds a retail home. In Jackson, this meant putting knife production on hold to produce hand sanitizer when the community supply ran low last Spring. The company has sponsored various auctions and raffles to raise money for World Central Kitchen in its mission to provide hot meals where they’re needed most. In Napa, NWKW has most recently helped raise funds for publishing local writer Jess Lander’s, The Essential Napa Valley Cookbook, the proceeds of which will benefit vulnerable restaurant workers in the area.

“We do all we can to have a positive impact on our communities,” said Milligan. “The past year really brought home the importance of ‘loving thy neighbor.’ And more, it brought home that we are all each other’s neighbors, even if we don’t live next door.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Story By: Fran Miller // Photos Courtesy of New West KnifeWorks

707-244-5188 // 1380 Main Street, St. Helena, CA // newwestknifeworks.com