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Terry Wallace: GUN ENGRAVER.

Combining a love of guns and a painter's touch, this fine craftsman adds his distinctive flair to fine firearms.

When a young man or woman in Europe decides to become a gun engraver, they hitch their star to a practicing engraver as an apprentice. They learn from their teacher and not only have to please him, but also must be certified by their guild. The guild will administer examinations as well as accept examples guild are satisfied, then the apprentice can hang out a shingle as an engraver.

Many pursue perfecting the skills necessary in their chosen profession even further. They devote substantial additional work and study to achieve the esteemed position of "master engraver."

Although there are notable exceptions, until recently many American engravers were not quite as artistically talented as many of their European colleagues. That situation was due, in large measure, to the extensive training system in Europe. A commensurate system did not and still does not exist in this country.

Mostly, American engravers learn the hard way and are largely self-taught. One such engraver is Terry Wallace.

Wallace's interest in engraving dates back to about 1959. Always interested in art, he spent most of his spare time executing oil paintings -- unless, of course, the hunting season happened to be open. During the closed season, he devoted much of his time to painting wildlife and landscape scenes.

During this period, he came across an article in Gun Digest by Jack Prudhomme called "How to Engrave Firearms." With his interest in hunting and fine guns, along with his artistic talents, it was only natural for him to undertake engraving as a hobby During the next 25 years, he worked at Sears to put beans on the table and concentrated on learning and improving his engraving skills in his spare time.

Mentor And Master

Wallace worked hard, but it wasn't until he met engraver Robert Swartley in the early '70s that he found the mentor he needed to really polish his skills. At the time he met Swartley, he had been engraving for several years. and much of his work was beginning to exhibit the artistic qualities he was endeavoring to achieve. Still, he felt more refinement was needed.

Swartley provided a helping hand, assisting Wallace in enhancing his skills. Wallace especially credits Swartley with teaching him to pay close attention to the details of scrollwork. One of the various styles of scrolls is the basic ornamentation on most engraving patterns and must be done properly for a first-class job.

After several years as a part-time engraver, Wallace left Sears in 1984 and launched his engraving business full-time. He has been working very hard at his bench ever since.

In the beginning, there was a good deal of trepidation about leaving a steady paycheck for the unknowns of the engraving business. He figured if he could amass six months of solid engraving jobs, he could go into the business full-time. As it turned out, when the time came he had a year of firm engraving time booked, which improved his confidence. Ever since he opened shop, Wallace's time has been fully booked.

The Challenge Of Beauty

Wallace has never regretted his decision. He loves working on quality firearms and each new commission represents a challenge to him. Wallace believes that word of mouth is the best possible advertising and since the beginning of his engraving career, he has relied mostly on his clientele spreading the word to attract new business.

He does, however, attend a few trade shows and several gun shows in California and Nevada. Of course, he also participates in the combined American Custom Gunmakers Guild and Firearms Engravers Guild of America annual exhibition, usually held in Reno.

Wallace says that the vast majority of his work is done for custom gun collectors upgrading their collections. A problem that he has wrestled with during his tenure as an engraver though, is how to price his artistry. Many engravers calculate how many hours will be involved in doing a job, and come up with an estimate using their hourly rate. Others establish a price per square inch of coverage and calculate the finished cost that way.

Wallace prefers to simply ask his client how much money he wants to invest in the engraving. Once that is established, he determines the design the client prefers and how much coverage can be provided for the price. He can then give the client his money's worth of engraving and the client will have a good feel for what the finished job will entail.

For some collectors, the sky is the limit. Others are of more modest means, and must save their money to spend on fine craftsmanship and artistry.

While the artistry of American engravers has suffered in comparison to their European colleagues, things are turning around. This is evidenced in the work of Terry Wallace.

Wallace is certainly an engraver at the peak of his profession and one whose work can be favorably compared to that turned out by any other engraver.

Fortunately, the field of engraving does not have a computer classification system ranking the best in the world, like golf and tennis. Such a ranking would be impossible to establish. Each top engraver has his or her own style of expression. Many are so distinctive that their work can be recognized from far away. Others are so versatile that it is difficult to recognize their execution, even when holding the piece. If we did have such a ranking though, Wallace would be right up there with the best.
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Author:Turpin, Tom
Publication:Guns Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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