Kay Foye is like the knives she creates. Like the steel of the blade, she is functional, pragmatic, and has an unrelenting work ethic. She is also like the handle: evocative, complex, and captivating. This dichotomy has been forged over decades of following her intuition, while also remaining adaptable. As she puts it, “uncertainty means possibilities.”
Long before Kay was a knifemaker, she was a young girl growing up in New Jersey who had an affinity for horses and the outdoors. It was these spaces and animals that grounded her, and where she felt most like herself. This draw to the outside world prompted her to pursue a degree in Biology and Psychology at the University of Vermont. Post-graduation, Kay spent her young adult life working in the fashion industry. By 2010 she was working full-time in New York City as a high-level account executive for Hunter Boots. Though she was talented in both sales and fashion, Kay was consumed by her desire to be in the mountains. Every opportunity she had, she’d leave the constraints of the city. She was successful, and yet she wasn’t fulfilled. Her intuition reminded her it was time to reevaluate.
In 2013, Kay had an unexpected opportunity to move to Aspen, Colorado, to work as a wrangler. Ready for a new home, and ready to get back in the saddle, the move was a natural fit. She spent the next 5 years working in the breathtaking Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness of Colorado. For Kay, “horses were a place where I could go and connect to something that made sense to me.” She gladly embraced all the excitement (and responsibilities) that life in the mountains with horses entailed.
Working with horses was also a lesson on the importance of basic survival tools. A knife on your belt is not an accessory, but a necessity. A knife can cut a tangled rope off of a panicking horse; it can be used for an unexpected tack repair, or for preparing needed nourishment after a long day’s ride. A knife is indispensable. It can save your (or your horse’s) life.
As Kay grew in her horsemanship and outdoor skills, she did what most sensible women would do, she went to Alaska. In preparation for her 4-month stint living in a yurt, Kay invested in a quality knife. During her process of selecting this necessary tool, she became completely enthralled with the knife-making process. After her time riding horses in the backcountry of Alaska, Kay went back to Colorado to learn how to make knives herself. She completely immersed herself in the trade and built her first studio. Her days were full, but she did whatever she needed to do to foster her passion. She had jobs on jobs on job, wrangling and waitressing, while she mastered a new craft. With “a lot of long nights, and a lot of early mornings,” things started to shift. She created her first collection three years ago with a Canadian outdoors company, VSSL, and it was a hit.
“The only time I’ve ever felt in my entire life that I am present and in the moment is when I’m on a horse or making a knife”
Like much of Kay’s story, the evolution of her knife process came out of necessity. She needed to find a sustainable way to create. In 2018, Kay moved to a farm in Tennessee. There, she worked with a mentor, an ex-rodeo cowboy who let her utilize his shop. One of her first clients who commissioned a custom knife requested she use a piece of African blackwood for the handle. That one request shifted the trajectory of her knife-making process: she had to make what she could with what she had.
“In all these uncertain positions I have been in, I have seen a lot of possibilities”
Kay began seeing the world around her differently. Everything was an opportunity – a potential material for one of her handles. She began creating her Homecoming Collection, utilizing elements such as horns from a cowboy’s first steer, crushed turquoise, a vintage miter saw, bison bone, cholla cactus, and aspen wood. She even put a pair of her old Levi’s in a knife handle.
“Memories from your past become repurposed to create new memories in your future”
Her accessibility and openness made space for people’s vulnerability. As her unique approach to knife-making began to build momentum, the sentimentality of her knives grew too. With the introduction of her Legacy collection, individuals were able to choose artifacts from their own lives to forever be memorialized into the blade and a handle of a knife. The process is intimate, as Kay is often handling the most important mementos of a person’s life. She recently created a knife for a friend grieving the sudden loss of her husband. The handle included his farrier rasp, stones, antlers, and his ashes. The knives become a place for memories of the past to be repurposed to create new memories in the future.
“Art is intense, and connection is real”
Kay currently resides on a 100-acre horse farm in Louisiana with her fiancé, Chris. After many years of commitment and hard work, she is a fulltime knifemaker. The common thread of adaptability and creativity are still palpable. Kay’s next foray is to travel and create collections based on different locales. She envisions building collections that are inspired by local landscapes, culture, and people, with a long-term goal of having a portion of the proceeds fed back into those communities. One of her first residencies will be at Ranchlands this Spring.
And on a personal note—when pushed a bit harder on the next several years, Kay warmly responds, “I don’t know? Get an airstream? Kids?”.
After all, “uncertainty means possibilities”.
Kay with her fiancé, Chris. When the couple met, Chris had spent over a decade building Blackhawk helicopters. He currently works as a professional photographer, and craftsman. The cover photo of Kay's knives with our Burk Bag was taken by Chris.