Guns (and other items) As Art

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I received a comment in response to “Thank God Our Elected Officials Are Looking Out for Us!” It came from a man with impeccable credentials in various fields, a man who is nobody’s fool, but he said one thing I take exception to:

“I personally do not find anything aesthetic about [firearms] (though I know others do rever [sic] them as works of art).”

If you’ve ever read this blog, you know I love firearms and make a portion of my living writing about them. I suspect this love of firearms is a result of my father patiently and consistently taking me to the arms and armor galleries of countless museums when I was a child. This almost certainly had less to do with his own interest in firearms (which was less than zero) and more to do with his understanding of how to get a small boy drugged on art and culture in general. My father was an extraordinary man; take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.

In addition to a love of firearms (and knives, swords, armor, the whole nine yards), one of the consequences of this early exposure was a fascination with any tool that is also a functional work of art. A quick list off the top of my head would include firearms, knives, saddles, bits, spurs, certain silver items, equine tools such as headstalls and mecates out of braided rawhide or horsehair (a process called hitching), certain antique cars, and I’m sure there are others that haven’t swum across my ken.

I could make an argument that an AR15 is as aesthetically pleasing as a hammer or wrench or any other tool that is perfectly distilled down to its functional essence to make it as efficient as possible, but let’s go for the more obvious examples.

Consider the lines of a fine side-by-side shotgun, a tool that has also been distilled down over the last one hundred and fifty years to its functional essence. Forget any fancy metal work or wood work; just look at the spare elegance of an Abbiatico & Salvinelli round-action shotgun,



or the classic lines of  Lebeau-Courally bolt action rifle Hemingway would have been proud to carry.



Both of these display the same kind of elegant and functional simplicity you might find on a Clovis arrowhead; all three, shotgun, rifle, and arrowhead, are made aesthetically pleasing by being perfectly designed for their purpose, with nothing extraneous or distracting. Still not convinced? Let’s take it a step further and look at some engraving.

Ken Hunt’s magic on a Purdey action.


McKay Brown’s adaptation of the classic Celtic knot.


A Civil War battle scene on a Piotti.



A Westley-Richards sidelock.


A mule deer by Tommy Kaye on a pistol grip cap.



Charles Lee’s engraving on a Dale Tate shotgun.


You may not wish to own such things—or any kind of firearm, for that matter—but no one can deny the artistic merit of these most basic tools.

Take a moment to check out the workmanship of some of the greatest artists living today at the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association the American Custom Gunmakers Guild and the American Bladesmith Society

The tool as art is one of the greatest accomplishments of the foolish human animal.

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