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Annual gunsmithing seminar provides ‘unique opportunity’ for participants

Annual gunsmithing seminar provides ‘unique opportunity’ for participants

Darrin McDonal of Illinois was among more than 60 participants who attended the 31st annual NMLRA Gunsmithing Workshop and Seminar, hosted by WKU’s Department of Architectural and Manufacturing Sciences. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

Perry Price is a former opera singer from Connecticut. Kim Lawler is an oral surgeon from Hawaii. Christina Carlson is a silversmith for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

All three share a common interest – learning more about the art and craft of making the American longrifle.

They were among more than 60 people who’ve been in Bowling Green for the past week as part of the 31st annual NMLRA Gunsmithing Workshop and Seminar, hosted by WKU’s Department of Architectural and Manufacturing Sciences.

“This is a unique opportunity,” said Walt Framski of Connecticut. “We get to see old rifles, we get to reproduce old rifles and we get to handle them which you don’t get to see in museums.”

Framski was among the participants in a workshop taught by Wallace Gusler, the “Gunsmith of Williamsburg” who established the Colonial Williamsburg gunsmith shop in 1963 and helped start the WKU event with Dr. Terry Leeper in 1981.

“There were other people in muzzle loading,” Gusler said of the late 1950s and early 1960s period, “but Colonial Williamsburg was the place where forging of barrels was rediscovered and somewhat reinvented, making rifles by hand.”

“The American long rifle is a unique weapon,” Framski said. “It’s what helped build a nation. No place else in the world you can get this kind of experience.”

In the past 31 years, hundreds of gunmakers have gotten that experience at the workshop and seminar offered at WKU.

“We have an exceptional instructional team that has made the seminar a tremendous success,” Dr. Leeper said.

When Beverly Decman of Illinois attended her first seminar at WKU in 1991, she wanted to learn more about the craft of metal engraving. “I never thought I could build a gun,” she said.

Now 21 years later, Decman is working on her sixth gun and has participated in several classes offered each year. “I got hooked. It was so fun,” she said.

The National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association Gunsmithing Workshop and Seminar continues to attract new and longtime participants.

“I like the craftsmanship and I like the old technology and learning how things were done,” said Framski, who has attended the seminar for about a dozen years. “I like the look and feel of them when they’re finished.”

Price, who sang opera in Europe for about 30 years, was among the participants in the “Finish What You Started” class taught by Bob Elka and Joe Valentin.

“I inherited a few antique firearms as a young man from my grandfather and that whetted my whistle about antique firearms and I’ve become an enthusiastic collector,” Price said.

Price was working on a German Jaeger rifle that he started about four years ago at the WKU seminar. “This is a very unique program,” he said. “The best thing from the learning standpoint is the hands-on of the professors. We’re learning how to do it. We’re shown how to do it.”

Lawler, who traveled from Honolulu to WKU, also was working to finish a project. “I started this rifle in 2001 at a workshop in Indiana,” he said. “The title of this course is ‘Finish What You Started’ so 11 years later I’m trying to finish what I started.”

Carlson, who works at Colonial Williamsburg, attended the seminar for the first time to learn 18th century engraving techniques, which will assist in the educational mission of her job.

“Hopefully I’m going to be able to take this back and be able to keep practicing this skill and I’ll apply it to pieces that we make at Colonial Williamsburg,” she said.

WKU’s Department of Architectural and Manufacturing Sciences has hosted an annual gunsmithing seminar for 31 years where participants learn the art and craft of making an American longrifle. In the center photo, Perry Price (right), a longtime opera singer, received hands-on instruction from Bob Elka. At the lower right, Christina Carlson attended the workshop to learn more about engraving to use in her job at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. (WKU photos by Clinton Lewis)

Contact: Terry Leeper, (270) 745-5954.

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 Last Modified 9/24/14