Cafe Interview with René Delcour
I received a suprise email from Cafe member Francis Heuse (en2siastic) of Belgium a few weeks ago. Unknown to me, Francis had taken the Cafe interview questions to René Delcour who was happy to answer them and provide the accompanying photos. René Delcour is a household word among engravers, and he has produced a tremendous amount of fine engraving, not to mention fine engraving students.
Francis, thank you for geting this interview with a living legend in the art of hand engraving.
Q. What's your name?
A. René Delcour, I'm 76 years old. Hello to all of you.
Q. Where are you from?
A. I'm living in Belgium, near the town of Liege. I lived in the United States between 1956 and 1958.
Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. I retired in 2000, after 57 years of engraving.
Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. I've learned engraving at the gun making school of Liege at the age of 13. I had to take two years to learn how to file, and then I took the engraving classes for three years.
Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started to learn engraving?
A. World war II , after bombing the electricity was off as well as the transportations , sometimes I had to walk 7 miles to reach the school.
Q. What was your professional career?
A. I worked at the Fabrique Nationale (FN/Browning) in Herstal between 1946 and 1956. Then I spent two years in the United States between 1956 and 1958, where I learned to use the push graver technique. I came back in Belgium and worked again at the FN in 1958 until 1963. In 1963 I became an engraving teacher at the gun making school of Liege. I retired in 1992 after 29 years in the school. During my career I've engraved for Browning, Purdey and many private gun owners. I stopped engraving at the age of 70.
Q. What was your best opportunity in your live?
A. In 1966 a letter from the United States came at the gun making school. Someone in Texas wanted to hire an engraver to engrave his collection of guns. I said YES, and in 1967 after sending some samples of what I could do I was hired by Odin J. Beck and Douglas H. Beck to engrave their firearms. It was in Corpus-Christi Texas. I went to this place many times, spending two or three months each year to engrave. I was accompanied by my best student Philippe Grifnée. Of course Odin J. Beck and Douglas H. Beck became my very close friends. I'm very thankful for this opportunity because it was the beginning of a long story in the United States.
Q. What is your greatest satisfaction?
A. It is a great satisfaction for me to see the high engraving level reached by my best student Philippe Grifnée who now is a Grand Master Engraver well known by many important firearms collectors.
Q. What kind of tool did you use to engrave?
A. I'm a hammer and chisel engraver, I also use push gravers.
Q. What type of magnification did you use?
A. I mostly used an Optivisor.
Q. What are your favourite books pertaining to engraving?
A. L.D.Nimschke by R.L.Wilson, The Art of Engraving by James B. Meek, Modern Firearm Engraving by Mario Abbiatico, Gravures d'Armes de Chasse, by Claude Gaier, and of course many other.
Q. Who's engraving work is among your favourite?
A. My best students work of course, LOL. Philippe Grifnée, Cécile Flohimont, Rocco Capece, Jean-Marie Smets, Alain Lovenberg, Véronique Grosjean, Fernand Brose (heraldic bearing specialist) .
Q. What are the majority of your engraving jobs?
A. Most of my engraving was done on shotguns and handguns. Deep engraving, carving, gold inlay, animal scene, monograms, etc.
Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. All parts of engraving are difficult if you want to do the best work possible, good drawing and layout are very important.
Q. What was the most unusual piece you engraved?
A. A motorcycle tank, with Nimschke style scrolls.
Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago?
A. The quality of the engraving is a matter, of ability, tools, and time. You can find the best and the worst in the past as well as today.
Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
A. Belgium of course, LOL. Personally I prefer an engraving that is deep enough so you can still shoot the gun and handle it without damaging the engraving. Of course USA, England, Italy, Germany, France, have their own school or style, and they all have highly skilled engravers.
Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. There will always be work to do for highly skilled engravers.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Learn with highly skilled engravers and teachers.
Q. What country have you visited during your career?
A. I went to the United States 62 times; I've also visited Switzerland,Russia, England, France, and Germany. Between 1976 and 1978, I went to the United States several times for some engraving exhibitions related to the bicentennial of the USA. I performed some exhibitions at the Smithsonian Museum of Washington, but also in Texas, and in the Browning facilities in Salt Lake City.
Q. Whose the most interesting people you met?
A. Mister Browning in Liege, Claude Gaier the director of the Firearm Museum of Liege, Edith Piaf , in Hollywood and San Francisco, and many other.
Q. What would you like to say to the members of the Cafe?
A. TRAVAIL, it means WORK. Work, work and keep working, it is necessary to reach a good engraving level.
A marvelous intervew with a great engraver and world class nice gentleman.
Thank you Sam and Francis for posting it,
What a nice man. This interview as were the others is rated at the top of my memory archives. Thanks Sam for this part of your cafe.
It was a pleasure for me to go to Rene's place and to interview him, but this little work has no value without your great Engraver's Cafe and all the work you do.
Thank you Sam.
I also wanted to add a few words about the pictures :
1 Collaboration work between Rene and Phil Grifnee, carved engraving and gold inlay.
2 Rene presenting Claude Gaier's book (Four centuries of gunmaking in Liege) to Mr BROWNING.
3 The FN engraving workshop in the best years of the factory.
4 A pair of Colt revolvers, scroll work and gold inlay.
5 The texan workshop in Corpus Christi, with the young Phil Grifnee, Rene and belgian gunsmith Marcel Thys.
Well I hope my english is good enough for you to understand it. LOL.
PS : Rene has no computer, I'm going to print the interview and bring it to him, it will be a nice little present for his new year day. He'll be honored.
Thanks again. Very Happy New Year.
57 years of tapping.. Great interview.
Fantastic interview. I also am thankful that this forum exists to provide things like this!
Rene, if you read this I'd like to wish you all the best from my father, Ken, and me. I still remember with fondness your visits with my family (and especially all the wonderful chocolate you bought us) during the 1960's and 70's. I hope you are well my friend and I hope we get to meet again soon.
Happy New Year,