Cafe interview with Jerry Huddleston
If there's something Jerry Huddleston can't do when it comes to the art of hand engraving, I've not seen it. You name it, he's done it...and done it masterfully! I'm happy to present this interview with one of the most talented and skilled craftsmen in the business. As the photos at the end of this interview show, Jerry has covered a lot of ground from gunmaking to the final decoration, including carving, fabulous gold inlay and overlay, wood carving, and more. Ladies and gentlemen...Mr. Jerry Huddleston!
Q. What's your name?
A. My Name is Jerry Huddleston
Q. Where are you from?
A. I was born in Portland Oregon August 18th 1936. I am a 5th generation Oregonian. My ancestors all came here on the Oregon Trail.
Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. I have only been engraving for about 13 years.
Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. I have always been fascinated by the highly decorated arms of the 18th and early 19th century. That is what gave me the desire to be an engraver. I have been making muzzle loading firearms for 50 years or more and about 13 or 14 years ago I made a English pistol and wanted my name put on top of the barrel . I met Robert Evans at a Gun Show in Portland Oregon and asked him if he could do that for me. He replied "why don't you do it yourself ? "
I told him I couldn't do it if my life depended upon it. He volunteered to give me a few tips. That led to a very close relationship.
Robert was a teacher for many years and has a special knack for inspiring people. In short he taught me most of what I know and I will forever be grateful because it is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream.
Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. I am a professional engraver but I don't often take in jobs from most common sources. I mostly engrave and do precious metal work on my own stuff because it pays a lot more than most regular engraving work. I do take special jobs especially if it is 18th or early 19th century type engraving. I guess I am very unorthodox but I do love real good bolino and banknote type stuff especially portrait engraving. I don't like to do other peoples art as a general rule.
Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. I guess I already said that Robert Evens taught me engraving but I also learned a lot from the Guild seminars and videos.
Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. My biggest obstacle was learning to sharpen the tools correctly and scroll drawing. I still struggle with the scroll drawing.
Q. Are you a hammer & chisel and/or push engraver, or do you use
pneumatic tools, or a combination of hand and power?
A. I started with hammer and chisel but I now use anything I have to to get the work done. I use it all.
Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. This is a tough question. I think It would be British Gun Engraving or the first book on American Engravers. For some reason I don't understand, I couldn't get much out of James Meek's book. I just didn't understand the sharpening process. The rest of the book is great. Usually I can just see something once and I can do it. I think that comes from when I was a small boy. We were very poor by today's standards and we always made out own toys.
Q. Of the old engraving masters, whose work is among your favorite?
A. The word old is relative you know. I was real impressed with Frank Hendricks. Lynton McKenzie also.
Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix it?
A. The worst mistake was in design. I did a floral design and engraved it on an English Pistol barrel and when I got done it looked like a Hawaiian shirt. The flowers were way too big it was terrible. I was Depressed. After some thought I cut the whole design out down to a background panel then framed it in gold and did a much more petite design in gold relief down in the panel. It came out great. I made a pile on the gun and it helped me get over a lot of fear because I learned that almost all mistakes can be corrected.
Q. What are the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. So far I haven't done anything but guns. That is the love of my life as far a engraving goes.
Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. I use both. I have two scopes and about three optivisors.
Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. The most challenging to me is the art work of drawing the design. Sometimes it takes me three or four days to come up with a design I like. Lettering is a little tough depending on the style.
Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. I just don't like cutting out background and stippleing. It's boring.
Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. I like bolino and gold work. I like anything that is a challenge and is creative.
Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. I am kind of neutral on lettering. I like it if it doesn't go on too long and become boring.
Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. Some people will not like this answer but I do not like nude women or cars on guns. I will never do a nude women on a gun, nor abstract art .
Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to
50 or 100 years ago?
A. There were some very good engravers 50 or 100 years ago but very few of them if any could compare to the best engravers of today.
Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. I can't see any part of hand engraving becoming a dying art. There are thousands of very wealthy people who collect highly engraved guns for art. I just don't see an end to this. In fact I think it will only be in more demand in the future.
Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
A. A lot of Engravers will say the Italians but my favorite is England.
Q. What affect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. I learned some stuff off the internet but mostly it has helped me get supplies and advertise my work. Another good thing is being able to see other engravers work. That is very inspiring.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Go to a professional engraver and learn how to sharpen your tools and learn why they must be the way they are. Concentrate on the art work. No matter how good you learn to cut metal if the design is not pleasing to the eye it is all in vain.
::: Personal :::
Q. How many children do you have?
A. I don't have any children. I had three children but they are all deceased. It is a long tragic story.
Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. My Wife Elizabeth is a homemaker. She is a college graduate and taught school for many years. She is as good as it gets. We have been married for 27 years.
Q. If you have traveled, what was the most exciting country you visited and what did you enjoy most?
A. I have only been to Canada and I loved that country. I was there when I was 12 years old and that was in Alberta. Back then some of the Indians were still living semi primitive. I got to see them and how they lived. I still have a very nice set of beaded moccasins and a bow that my grandmother bought from them for me.
Q. Do you have an interesting experience while traveling that you'd like to share?
A. In 1948 I was in Jackson Hole Wyoming and back then it was like an old western town. I went in to a saloon and the floor was inlaid with a huge design made of silver dollars. Even at the age of 12 I was allowed to go into the saloons and do pretty much as I wanted . I asked the bartender how old you had to be to buy a drink there and he replied " old enough to have a dollar" . That was the rule [for real]. There were young kids outside on the wooden sidewalks who were shinning shoes and boots for 50 cents. I asked one kid about my age how much he made doing that and he told me he could make up to $50.00 in a night. There were cowboys coming into town on horseback wearing guns. They just carried the guns for shooting predators out on the range when herding sheep and cattle. $50.00 was a lot of money in 1948. You could buy a pretty good car for that much.
Q. What's the most interesting experience you had when meeting people?
A. When I was in the army I drove a staff car for a while and once I drove for colonel Van T. Barfoot. He was a medal of honor recipient and a great man in my opinion. I asked him how he became a hero so to speak and he replied. "I'm no dammed hero I was just fighting to stay alive". He said sometimes you are caught in a situation where your chances of survival are better to fight than to run. That is what happened to me and I was just lucky enough to survive.
You can read about him on the net. He went way beyond the call of duty. He was a great man. He was one of those men that you like at first sight. Men would naturally follow him. I was impressed with his humility.
Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. I have built muzzle loading guns since I was a teenager. I studied American Indians since I was about 12 years old and still do. I studied mostly the western tribes, gold mining and everyday life in the old west. I collect Oregon trail diaries. I have an extensive library about those subjects. I don't read anything but pure fact and historical records. Fiction only confuses the real truth. For the last year or so I have been studying the Lost Meek wagon train of 1845. So far I have come to the conclusion that there was no gold found on that excursion. I just finished studying the Shoshoni wars and the battle of bear river. There is a lot to be learned and the truth is seldom ever told in Hollywood. Would you believe that a war could be started over grass seed.
I also shoot flintlocks at least once a month with my black powder friends.
Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. My favorite place is out in the wilderness. The wilderness is sort of my church. There I can see God all around me. Even the silence is sort of holy if you will. Now days many people have never experienced real silence or solitude. However it is a lot more relaxing if you are carrying a large gun. In NE Oregon there are lots of large predators that are capable of disturbing the peace. A good friend of mine saw a cougar kill a deer in his front yard yesterday.
Q. What’s one thing of which you are most proud?
A. The word proud sort of bothers me but I guess it would be some of the guns I have made and engraved.
Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. When I was real young I think it was Superman or Roy Rogers.
Q. Tell us something few people know about you.
A. I was a nightclub entertainer until I was about 25 years old but did other jobs also. I was a impersonator, comedian, dancer and a drummer in a band. sort of like Samy Davis. I was in Special Services in the Army Band.
Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. Sittin in my house watching TV.
Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. People who want something for nothing. I have worked since I was 8 years old. Now I'm 75. I have a very bad back , artheritis, vasculitis and I still work.
You know what? GET A JOB.
Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. This is a fantastic place to live and a great historical town. We have very low crime. I know a guy who left his keys in his car for the last ten years. You can go on vacation without your house being burglarized. Baker is in a valley between the Elkhorn Mountains and the Wallowa Mountains. It is gorgeous here. The air is clean and the water is pure. Deer come to town for safety. I just like to walk around the town and up the river with my wife.
Q. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?
A. I would rather have dinner with my wife than anybody else on earth. We have been thru the fire together if you know what I mean.
#2 would be Robert Evans and Norma
Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. I think that would be my Dad. I had a perfect father. He never complained. He worked hard all his life. He was totally honest. He was always loyal to my mother. He sacrificed everything for us kids. He was my best friend, hunting and fishing companion. He had a down to earth philosophy sort of like Will Rogers. Once I asked him if he believed in bigfoot. He said nope. I asked why. He replied because " somebody would have run over one by now" .
Q. Who (living or deceased) would you most liked to have met?
A. I would like to have met Jesus. Probably nobody else has had as much influence on the human race.
#2 would be President Jefferson.
Q. Describe what you would think of as a perfect day.
A. A perfect day would be a picnic at a mountain lake with my Mom, Dad and wife.
Q. Tell us a good short, clean joke.
A. A cop stopped a guy for speeding on the freeway. After scolding him for some time he told the man to please slow it down and said he was going to let him go at that. As the Patrolman was returning to his car a small boy stuck his head out of the rear window of the offenders car and yelled to the policeman " my dad has a notion to kick your butt."
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. Most people are capable of much more than they believe thay are able to do. Old dogs can learn new tricks. If you don't think you can do something you are probably wrong. Have faith in yourself. Enjoy life as it comes. Life is short and each day is precious. Don't look back at the mistakes of the past.
Once in a while take a look at the stars and remember there are 50 billion trillion stars out there. God is big and you are small but you matter in spite of it all. It will keep you humble.
A very interesting read Jerry, and great work. Pleasure to know you!
(The Other Sam)
Guns, Guitars and Old Cars
Cravingravin=a chronic malady that afflicts some of the world's nicest people...TOS
Sam, I'm getting an error message that the "Attachments are invalid". I cannot see any photos at the end of the interview.
"It infuriates me to be wrong when I know I'm right." Moliere
thanks for letting us in on a little bit of your life and philosophy. Thanks Sam (for me the links are down)- Fred
Want to learn to engrave, "cut an inch a Day every Day" Jim Small
Jerry Huddleston and Sam, thanks for the interview .
Interesting and wisely!
I also cannot to see attached files below...
Great interview, thanks for taking the time so we could know a little about you. I certainly miss seeing you displaying your work at the CLA show.
Fare well my friend,
thank you for the interview,very interesting!
I loved the interview myself. Feel like I would love to meet Mr. Huddleston. Thanks for the post.
I also can not see the attachments.
That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do; not that the nature of the thing has changed, but our capacity to do has increased.
I based my comment on firsthand knowledge of Jerry's work. The attachments don'e work for me either.
(The Other Sam)
Guns, Guitars and Old Cars
Cravingravin=a chronic malady that afflicts some of the world's nicest people...TOS
I apologize for the photos showing up as links. Not sure what caused that but it's fixed now. Humble apologies, Jerry!