We have chosen to present us in the form of an article written by the French journalist and knife expert Francis Anglade.
The article is updated in October 2008. Original article is entered in the French knife magazine Excalibur (number 44, 2007) and in the Russian knife magazine PROREZ (number 5, 2007).
Additional photos have also been added to this version.
We thank the author for the opportunity to publish it here.
The LOFGREN Family Saga.
Among the “New Swedish Knifemakers” who appeared in the last few years on the international cutlery scene one name stands out specially: Lofgren.
We must admit that there are two of them: Thomas the father, and Claes the son, and that they have been both heavily involved in setting up the Sävsjö Knife Show (2005, 2008) and in many activities related to the development of handmade cutlery in Sweden. Finally, it seems that other members of the family are also “falling in the pot” of custom knives, as Anna, the sister of Claes, who was making previously some scrimshaw and was keeping sometimes the family table at the local shows, just won a First Prize at the important Ludvika Knife Competition. And if you add that Monika Bengtsson, the partner of Claes, has made her first knife, and that Ann-Charlotte - the mother - bought two blades some months ago, you wonder what is going to happen…!
All right, the father, the son, it is not too common but there are previous cases (the Taylors in the US), father and daughter is less frequent but again there is at least one other case (the Arkhangelskys in Russia). But if you add son, daughter, partner of the son and may be one of these days the mother… then it surely becomes exceptional, and it will be a real Swedish Family Saga!
Let us see all this more in details.
We will start with the father. Thomas Lofgren was born November 1949 in the small town of Eksjö in the south of Sweden (about 300 Km from Stockholm). After his nine years of general mandatory schooling, and three more years in a Gymnasium, he entered in the Army where he made his career, all the while following about five more years of specialized studies. Thomas recently retired in January 2005 while he was the Officer in charge of the Driving Safety Program of the Swedish Army. This program was so successful that it inspired a good part of the civilian program for road traffic safety, and that Thomas is still called as a Consultant on road safety problems in various parts of the country.
It is the favorite sport of the whole family: fishing, which brought Thomas to handmade cutlery. For a long time now, the family has been spending every year ten days fishing (and only fishing!) in the Lofoten Islands, in the north of Norway. The waters over there are very rich in fish, and it is not uncommon at all to pull a fish of 15 to 20 kilos (18 to 24 pounds), even now. It is obvious that when you catch many such big fishes, you have to clean, cut and filet them, and for this you need a pretty good knife. And this is what brought Thomas to make his own knife about twenty years ago. This first knife was cutting reasonably well, but was so ugly that he felt obligated to make another one.
And it is like this that he entered the “marvelous world” of handmade cutlery, and never left it since. Thomas bought a book on knifemaking, where he learned a few more things; but the real trigger for improvement was his encounter with Roland Stromberg, an experienced knifemaker. This man invited him once at his house to learn how to sew a nice sheath, and from there on showed him also several ways to improve the general quality of his work.
Roughly from the year 2000, Thomas’ involvement became quite a lot more important than before, in part because of the interest for knifemaking developed by his son Claes. The latter, having a technical background, there were many interesting elements of progress, emulation and sharing for father and son in the knife field. Nowadays they are both part-time knifemakers: Claes is working in an industrial company (see hereunder), and Thomas has put his organizational skills and public relations efficiency to improve the handmade cutlery, and specially the one of the Småland Province where he lives. He was the kingpin of 2005 Sävsjö Knife Show (with Bengt-Elis Pettersson, the city hall Technical Manager), and he was again at the center of the organization which set up the 2008 Sävsjö International Knife Expo.
During the “Handicraft Conference” of November 2006, a weekend of seminars and workshops oriented towards improvement of already experienced knifemakers, Thomas was at the same time organizer, host and speaker. Always moving around, attending a meeting of the local “Småland Knivmakare” here, preparing a workshop there, the tireless Swede found recently the time to write a book (with 150 of his own photos!) on “Making a Sheath for a Nordic Style Knife” (first draft translation from Swedish by Claes). And of course, do not forget that he is making beautiful knives and attending many shows in Scandinavia, but also in Europe (Paris) and in the States (Las Vegas, Pasadena).
Concerning his knives, his motto is clear: “What stops growing, will soon be dead”. Therefore Thomas is always trying to improve his work, learning new techniques (Claes’ contribution is important at this level), looking for new materials, experimenting new combinations of shapes and colors. To quote him again: “I like challenges, to walk on thin ice, even if I am not a very good swimmer” (a Nordic image not to take literally, of course!).
This is probably why he likes so much to participate in these famous “Knife Competitions”, so characteristic of the Scandinavian cutlery scene (and also an excellent way to improve the general level), because he likes to have a goal which pushes him to create, to try to be better than the previous time. For him, the opinion of judges and spectators are a precious indication to know if things are going in the right direction.
All Thomas’ knives are unique as, even on models with quite similar designs, he introduces many different elements (decoration of handle and sheath, combinations of colors and materials), to obtain each time a different piece.
In the last two years he turned even more towards high-quality materials, to produce more exclusive models. Thus he is using less wood than before, but more fossil ivory (mammoth, walrus), hippopotamus or warthog tooth, giraffe bone, etc. If he uses wood, it will be often stabilized and colored varieties. Once in a while he will even use some gold and silver or a small precious or semi-precious stone. For blades, he prefers mosaic damascus, and specially those of Conny Persson or Johan Gustafsson, or sophisticated damascus by Mattias Styrefors. But lately he has been practicing to be able to make his own blades by the stock removal method. As he is also saying: “I can develop the craft totally according to my own fashion and taste. There are always new challenges to take on. I see no end to it”.
Claes was born in December 1976 in the same town as his father (in fact Eksjö is a military garrison and Regional Headquarters town, which probably explains this fact!). His mother Ann Charlotte works in the Police station there and his sister Anna lives and works a little outside Eksjö. Claes is the first to admit that his studies were not brilliant: nine years of the mandatory school and then three years in the Trading & Administration section of the Gymnasium but, after that… several years of unemployment. This situation forced him to completely rethink his perspectives for the future, to be able to find a job. Therefore he started an 18 months formation in the welding specialty, and more precisely in the use of a robotic welding machine. Right away he found a job and worked for three years as an operator of such welding equipment. Then, as the company he was working for started an expansion plan, a part-time position for supervising the Planning of Materials Supply was created. Claes, who was already doing custom knives, jumped on the opportunity, applied for the post, got it, and he worked in this position for three years. And three years ago he was promoted as head of the department. It might seem funny for a kid with a father who has been involved in making knives since his son was probably 10 years old only, but it is true that Claes came to knifemaking quite late.
And for a rather original reason (at least it is the first time we hear this one, although many were given to us along the years!): to go to the USA. For years Claes saw his father making knives, but he himself was not really interested. But beginning 2001 he saw his father and a young friend (Johan Gustafsson) leaving together for the “Knife Expo” near Los Angeles in California and he “felt envious when Dad took off”.
Wanting also to discover the US and California (and may be “the” famous beach with its beautiful girls in red swimming suits?), he thought that the way to pay for the trip might be making knives himself… His knowledge of metal working and materials, plus the teaching of the basics by his father, resulted in very quick progress. And five months after making his first knife alone, he decided to send his fifth knife to the big competition in Ludvika, where he managed to win the First Prize in his chosen category! It was obviously an enormous boost and so in February 2002 already he had enough pieces ready to accompany his father to Los Angeles. Since this time, it has become a sort of tradition for father and son to attend together the Knife Expo in the US and the Ludvika knife show in Sweden.
As the popular proverb is saying: “The apple never falls very far from the tree”, and it is sure that the knives of Claes share several points of similarity with those of Thomas. Same preference for mammoth bark ivory ( the outside crust of the tusk ), same suppliers for blades (M. Styrefors, C. Persson, J. Gustafsson, but also the young and imaginative André Andersson), same interest for quality of sheaths in the Nordic style, same way of giving names to the knives. But it should not be too quickly inferred from all these similarities that they are the result of Thomas influence. As the latter clearly says, it is often the ideas and the imagination of Claes which are the elements of inspiration for Thomas.
As the Swedish specialist Samuel Karlsson wrote: “Today father and son are encouraging each other; they are teacher and student, master and apprentice”; but we would like to add: “They are this for each other, in turn”. But there are also some differences and, if it is true that it is not always possible to recognize right away who did what with all of their pieces, some of them can clearly be attributed to Claes (“French Connection”, “Purple Dust” or “Serpento” are good examples).
According again to Samuel Karlsson: “Thomas’ knives are well made and imaginative, but with a more traditional approach. He has a feel for elegant and functional knives... Claes’ knives are more daring; his designs are more adventur[ous] and extreme; [they] are close to a level being called pieces of art”.
But all the above is rather theoretical and, to be convinced of this, one has only to look at knives like “Blue Tooth” by Thomas and “Lagoon” by Claes to feel the inter-action between father and son.
And a knife like “Long Life” by Thomas seems to us as innovative and aesthetically daring as the most modern of Claes’ knives! But, being younger and with a more technical background, Claes is probably trying more things.
As he is saying: “The worst thing that can happen is that it goes wrong and that I have to start all over again. It can cost some material but I think it is worth a try. I find it exciting to cross the line to find new approaches”
The Lofgrens, father and son, are regularly participating in the Knife Expo of Pasadena, near Los Angeles, and to the SICAC in Paris. They also went to a show in Las Vegas, but prefer the one in California to discover new fashions and also to buy exotic materials which are sometimes difficult to find in Sweden. As Thomas is saying: “It becomes also a mini holiday for both of us. It is very enjoyable to travel and to share the interest and the experiences”. They would like to attend more International Shows, and for this their first choice would be the big Atlanta Blade Show.
Francis E. ANGLADE
American, Russian and Swedish Knifemakers Guild