Friday, August 27, 2010

It's a Poor Livin'...

For a while, I made a meagre living as a full time gunmaker. A good friend told me, between file strokes, "It's a poor livin'...workin' on the guns..." I built Kentucky rifles for a growing and appreciative clientelle, but the nature of the work being what it is, I realized after a few years that I would never be able to quit my "other job" (which paid the bills) nor would I be able to buy a good used vehicle, or take a vacation to any place nicer than the local mall. With two growing children I did the Right Thing, and closed the doors for several years, went to grad school, and now have a Real Job. Needless to say, I regret my decision, but the bills get paid on time. And that, as they say, ain't hay.

The Kentucky Rifle - where to begin? All my life it has sung to me like the Siren (crashing on the rocks and all). I don't know how to explain or describe the hold these things have on my imagination. Beauty is where we find it - there is in each of us a void that holds objects of a certain shape. Inside me there has always been a hole in the shape of an old long barrelled rifle

The longrifle may look primitive, but it must be understood that a fine flintlock was balanced atop the peak of 300 years of firearms development in its heyday. And like all the highly and fully developed trades, best quality gunmaking (whether here or in Europe) encapsulated the best of all the arts that touched it. A fine rifle might contain some of the best ornamental wood carving, the best metal engraving, and the best forge work of any single item in the culture. As an object of the decorative arts, it has not gotten its just deserts. I have seen furniture carving in museums at which the docent and spectators gazed in mute amazement, that would not even be considered middling work on a good rifle.

There were ornate clocks and splendid furniture and majestic architecture in the 18th century, but good gunmaking could hold it's place next to any of them as work superbly and elegantly designed and executed. Utilitarian though it had to be, it was still near the pinnacle of the arts of it age.

Today there are many talented and dedicated craftsmen who can do work as good as, or better, than any that was ever produced. There are one or two geniuses that rank with the half dozen greatest gunmakers who ever lived. To be alive at the same time as those men, and to have known them and worked with a couple of them, is one of the great joys of my life.

I'm still making rifles. For myself, for friends, but not too many for sale. Like raising daughters, it hurts too much to see them go off with strangers.

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