Rural Missouri - March 2014 - (Page 10)

photo courtesy of Jim Downing While Jim can engrave any theme, he specializes in the scroll style of the 1880s and 1890s. Here, his work graces a replica Winchester 1873, "The gun that won the West." H by Heather Berry hberry@ruralmissouri.coop is canvas is usually small - maybe the size of a business card or the circumference of a broom handle. Sometimes, the space is even smaller, like a postage stamp. But Jim Downing doesn't need much space to etch out his signature scrollwork design. Jim is a gun engraver. If you see a modern Colt or Winchester etched up in an 1880s or 1890s style, it's likely to be Jim's design. "Gun makers like Colt and Winchester used to have custom engraving shops at their factories decades ago," he says. "Very few engravers in the 1800s were after-market scratchers like I am." Jim adds that lawmen, gunfighters and the upper class of that time period often had their guns engraved because they were proud of the pieces. Back then, .45-caliber pistols sold for $12 to $18. Engraving added $6 to $8, often a month's salary for the working class. "Another reason they got guns engraved back then is the same as today's owner - they want a one-ofa-kind piece," adds Jim. "Or maybe they shoot so badly they just want it to look good." What Jim does is called push engraving. The 57-year-old started etching scrimshaw in New Orleans 35 years ago with an ulterior motive - to meet women. Ladies would set up craft or food booths at shows and, 10 ago. He also attributes German gun to engrave," says engraver Louis Nimschke as a the craftsman. "While major influence. I worked on it, I realized "Nimschke's flowing that this was the first gun " scrollwork was unique, I was scratching and that I Springfield and he often used a needed to buy it, so I did. dot-punch style in his "It wasn't good at all," It * backgrounds," Jim says, Jim says of his initial work. referring to his mentor's "But it's a good piece to look at once in a while. It helps me stay smooth, flowing designs. "It's a style which fits perfectly into humble." the period of work I specialize in." Jim says the only formal training Gun enthusiast Chuck Calloway he's had came from the two weeks he from Fayetteville, Ark., is a big fan of spent with an old man named Tilden Jim's gun-engraving style. With more Swenson in Little Rock, Ark., decades than 50 of his gun and Case knife collection engraved by Jim, Chuck keeps the engraver busy with new projects every chance he gets. "I've bought a $200 gun, had Jim engrave it and had the insurance appraisal come back at $6,000 because of what he's done to it," says the avid gun collector. Chuck says he's bought guns that have been engraved at the factory where they were made, but he thinks Jim's work is much better. "What Jim's doing is a lost art," says Chuck. Jim says his waiting list is currently six months long. When he's about ready for another job, he calls the next several people on the list and has them ship the pieces to him. To most collectors, it's not about the money they're going to spend, it's about getting Jim's work onto their gun. "Most people just say, 'Let's keep it under $500 or whatever,' and I will. Before engraving a gun, Jim often must take apart the gun to get to the pieces he's And sometimes they tell me they engraving. Here, he uses a vice to remove the barrel of an old rifle he's working on. usually, a daughter or two would be there helping their mothers. "I know, I know," he quickly adds, smiling, "But I did meet my wife, Nancy, so my plan worked." From scrimshaw designs on ivory or bone, Jim moved on to engraving silver jewelry, then on to engraving designs onto pocket knives. It was while attending a black powder gun match many years ago that Jim engraved his first gun. "The guy next to me was selling guns and said, 'Jim, you gotta do this,' and handed me a cheap $90 WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2014

Contents

Rural Missouri - March 2014

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