Oliver's Ozarks: The Gun Engraver

By David Oliver | doliver@kolr10.com

Published 07/23 2014 08:05PM

Updated 07/23 2014 10:40PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Art is in the eye of the beholder. For a Springfield craftsman, his art is being held in the hands of cowboy gun collectors.

"They have style, they have grace, and they're beautiful when engraved,” says Jim Downing.

You hear a particular sound a lot around Jim Downing's shop. It's the sound of pushing metal through metal to make old-fashioned, ornate designs on guns of the Old West.

"Engraving has been around for a very long time,” says Downing. “It's basically a chisel, an engraving block and a sharpening rig."

Downing is one of the most sought-after cowboy gun engravers in America. It's a skill he learned 25 years ago after several years engraving on ivory and knives.

"Now I engrave guns not only here in the states, but also in Australia and in Europe,” he says.

Downing's work waiting list is about six months long, due in part to the popularity of cowboy shooting.

Downing says more than 200,000 Americans collect and fire guns from the 1800's and he travels to cowboy shooting events about six times a year to engrave.

“For me, I get dressed up in cowboy garb, engrave all day, people hand you money and at the end of the day there's a party,” says Downing. “It's a fun event, which is why cowboy shooting has become so popular in the last 20 years."

When Downing isn't putting the finishing touches on a piece, you might be surprised to hear where he might be.

"I'm not a shooter, I'm a fisher,” he says. “When I have time to myself, I'll shoot on occasion, but I'd rather go fishing almost any day of the week.”

Even so, Downing says he has a passion for his craft, and you'll find him behind his engraving block for years to come.

"It's just been a journey that you don't expect,” he says. “Many people don't love what they do. I love what I do."

Downing says he's so busy engraving for other people that his own cowboy guns are not engraved.

He teaches classes five or six times a year and he says he can teach anyone how to engrave in a week, but it might take them 10 to 15 years to figure it out.

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