Loaded Guns

A Derringer engraved with Aesthetic Movement ornament by Otto Carter
Images from The Handy Book of Artistic Printing
 Aesthetic ornament came out of the British design reform movement of the early to mid-19th century. Aesthetic design is eclectic, features exotic motifs (especially Japanese), and geometricized natural elements. Later in the century "artistic" became the shorthand, often commercial shorthand, for any design even remotely Aesthetic.
These are specimens of artistic printing—commercial letterpress printing's foray into Aestheticism

Recently, my business partner Doug received a phone call from a man in Abilene, Texas, named Otto Carter. Carter had stumbled upon our book, The Handy Book of Artistic Printing, in his online research for ornament. After finding us through our ornament style guide on the Vectorian site (Vectorian offers collections of historical ornament in clean digital vector form) he became a big fan of Handy and of Aesthetic ornament in particular. So much so, he wanted us to know, he was using it in his work engraving guns. Yes engraving guns. Carter also works on other "bro"-centric items, like knives, vapor e-cigarettes, motorcycle parts, even golf clubs—virtually everything I know nothing about—but his concentration appears to be guns. While I dont agree with gun culture and hunting, which Carter also embraces, I got over that fairly quickly in the name of design*. I was so taken with the fact that we'd made a dent in this completely foreign niche industry I decided to find out a little more about Otto Carter and custom-engraved guns.

First I must tell you Carter is damn good at what he does, which is to work metal by hand with a graver. No machine templates, no laser etching, this is all hand work. Carter has a background in art and specialized in decorative sign making and gold leafing for many years. In 2002 he took a week-long course in engraving and found an entirely new calling. It was slow going at first, "Engraving has a huge learning curve," he said, "I don't care if you're Michaelangelo, your work in the beginning is not going to look good." Well past that stage now, his gun commissions—working, shooting, guns— each take about 2 weeks on average to complete and cost several thousand dollars. Each is virtually encased in ornament.

"I have always been a student of style," Carter says, "and sort of bounce from one to the other.” On his site traditional scroll work, tribal and quasi-Celtic geometrics, Renaissance Revival foliage, religious scenes, even Aztec motifs are all in evidence. “I also did a lot of pin-striping on cars and motorcycles,” he explained, “and was really influenced by the Kounter Kulture types like Ed Big Daddy Roth.... So some of my engraving has a lowbrow look to it.” (I'm assuming he's referring to the odd skull and crossbones hidden amidst the gems). "The planets aligned" when he tried out Aesthetic ornamentation on an e-cig and then a derringer. “When people see the derringer they react to it like nothing else.” A derringer, I found out, is a remarkably cool, vintage-looking "palm pistol." The erroneous spelling of 19th century arms manufacturer Henry Deringer's name has come to stand for any small pocket pistol. Put artistic ornament on the derringer and you've automatically got a piece straight from Gangs of New York.

I asked why he thought the Aesthetic ornament seemed to be so popular. “I think people like it because it is full of surprises. It is rich with unexpected elements. Traditional scroll work is rhythmical and predictable. Also, all the unique cuts of the Aesthetic motifs lend themselves so well to chisel work. It is truly the engravers style.” Which is apt since the ornament in artistic printing was all cast or carved in metal to begin with. “Right now I'm doing a traditional scroll piece and I'm not very excited about it.” he lamented. “I'm hooked on Victorian!”

Watch a wonderful little video on Carter created by an e-cig company.
All gun images © Otto Carter
Renaissance Revival foliate scroll work
tribal-Celtic geometricized scroll work

*(I couldnt quite get over the gun he engraved for Rick Perry)


Anonymous said...

Otto is a friend and lives not far from me and yes, his work is stellar. He is also a proficient photographer.

male said...

So great that artisans do internet searches and find other artisans, back in years it was only word-of-mouth or stumble-upon a book
Great post Ang, in fact I leant out your AP title last week to an engraver, so its having an effect all over!


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