Since the Contemporary Longrifle Association is largely
about the renaissance in arms making, I think it is
appropriate to begin this with an update on Three
Centuries of Tradition: The Renaissance of Custom Arms
Making in America. This exhibit has been several years
in the planning and when it opens at the Minneapolis
Institute of Arts in July of 2003 it will be first time
a major art museum has recognized modern made firearms
as art objects. I feel, as many do, that this is an
important step in exposing some of the art collecting
community to the wonderful art on contemporary firearms.
This groundbreaking exhibit was the brainchild of Evan
Maurer, President and Director of the Institute. Evan
enlisted John Bivins to flesh out the idea and select
the objects. Since John's tragic death, Mark Silver and
Wallace Gusler have been guest curators working with
Cori Wegener, Research Assistant and Christopher
Monkhouse, Curator of Decorative Arts. Mark and Wallace
are also writing a well-illustrated catalog of the show.
The catalog will include an introduction based on the
exhibit prospectus written by John.
The show will include about eighteen antique arms to
illustrate, to those unfamiliar with the subject, why
the modern movement is considered a renaissance and to
show the origin of some of the design elements. Many of
the contemporary firearms are longrifles but there are
also some classic center-fire rifles as well. A few
decorated accoutrements and accessories will round out
the eighty-five objects.
The show is scheduled for about three months at the
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The exhibit will then
travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for a similar
period. By the time you read this a third venue on the
East coast may have been arranged.
In thinking about what to include in the descriptions in
this exhibit there was an interesting discussion of what
to say, if anything, about how the piece was made. To
many of the visitors looking at a firearm as an art
object for the first time it won't matter whether the
iron mounts were purchased castings or hand forged or
whether the lock parts were cast, machined or forged.
Does anyone care if Monet stretched his own canvases?
The exhibit label reads "Oil on Canvas" not "Hand
blended oil on commercially purchased canvas."
The average art object is judged by esthetic appeal and,
in most cases, technical execution. Contemporary gun
builders and their clients have added to this an
interest in how the rifle was made. This is no doubt
true in part because the "How?" question has a big
impact on the "How much?" question. But, there are at
least two other reasons. Because building contemporary
longrifles is a revival of 18th or IQ^-century work,
there is an added appreciation for modern work done by
the original process. There is also an understanding
that more traditional handwork often translates into a
more individual, built just for me, finished rifle.
A visitor to last year's show, who claimed he had come
with the intention of buying a rifle, asked me why there
were such big differences in the prices on some of the
rifles. He had no way to know that some were hand made
while others were assembled from commercial parts.
Likewise, he had no idea of the extra hours that some
types of carving, inlay and engraving add to building a
rifle. His question made me realize that, by offering
memberships at the door, we had opened the show to the
public but we had not asked ourselves to put any
descriptive labels on our work. If we are going to
educate these potential customers we can begin by better
describing the arms we displayŚmaybe their period,
regional style and a bit about how they were made would
The many items on display that were not for sale also
confused visitors attending their first C.L.A. show.
They came expecting it to be like an ordinary modern gun
show where almost everything has a price. Somehow we
need to educate them on how the custom order process
normally works. Maybe some of us need a sign on our
table that says, "Although none of these are for sale,
I'll be glad to discuss building a rifle for you."
We should not complain about not getting any business
from the show if we haven't made an effort to explain
and promote our work.