|Thomas discussing "Artful Instruments: Georgia Gunsmiths and Their Craft"|
When Sam Thomas, curator of the T.R.R. Cobb House in Athens, first heard that Dale Couch was interested in spotlighting Georgia gunsmiths at the Georgia Museum of Art, it was music to his ears. After viewing long rifles on display at the Tower of London nearly 13 years ago, Thomas knew that exhibitions of that nature were well worth exploring and that the craft in Georgia has been overlooked for too long.
During a special Tour at Two on January 24, Thomas spoke to an interested crowd of two dozen individuals about the conception of “Artful Instruments: Georgia Gunsmiths and Their Craft,” which is on display at the museum through February 25. He noted that while many people see the guns on display as military pieces, he knew them to be “some of the earliest known forms of southern decorative arts,” and went on to classify them as “truly American works of art.”
|Part of the crowd for the special "Tour at Two" on January 24|
The craftsmen of these works known by many names — mountain rifles, hog rifles, long rifles — were truly jacks-of-all-trades. The guns were used for sustenance as well as defense, and in some cases they were crafted with the intention of being presentation pieces awarded as trophies or prizes in local contents and fairs. Decorated with themes from the craftsmen’s cultures carefully and with precision, some rifles were even signed by the gunsmith himself.
Because Georgia’s gunsmithing history has long been ignored, this exhibition is an important acknowledgment of that record. Thomas took time specifically to acknowledge gunsmith Wiley Higgins, stating that Georgia can safely claim that one of their own was the “best long rifle maker in the world.” Higgins has multiple guns displayed in the exhibition, including a pistol whose nickname, “Precious,” somehow fits the firearm perfectly.
“Artful Instruments: Georgia Gunsmiths and Their Craft” is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the museum (available for sale through the Museum Shop and on Amazon.com), and the exhibition is sponsored by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia/the MOTSTA Fund, the Watson-Brown Foundation, the W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art.