By Roni Toldanes
In the movie The Renaissance Man, Bill Rago, a character played by Danny deVito, talks about a man in the 1400s who was a scientist, an artist, an engineer, a teacher, an athlete and more: A man who was good at everything. Jim Blair deserves to be called such for the same reason.
Before he turned to engraving as a livelihood, Blair was an auto body repairman, a painter, a teacher, and a welder at a coal mine. He even worked on ranches and for the U.S. Forest Service.
Blair was not a jack-of-all-trades who knows just a little bit of everything. He becomes an authority at every field of endeavor he decides to get involved in.
Blair is a brilliant, versatile and technically adept engraver.
In 1980, without previous interest or experience in the craft, he attended an engraving program sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Trinidad, Colorado. The classes were taught by master engravers Neil Hartliep, John Barrenclough, Sam Welch, and Robert Swartley. Blair learned a lot from the program, but he discovered the intricacies of engraving by himself.
Blair, 48, was swiftly captivated by the idea of being able to transform an ordinary piece of metal into a work of art. One thing led to another and, in time, Blair decided to leave his job as a welder in a coal mine in his hometown in Wyoming.
Since 1993, Jim Blair has been engraving full-time, weaving his masterful artwork in firearms and knives. He has engraved firearms for the American Gunmakers Guild and knives built by famous makers, including Joe Kious, Steve Hoel, Eldon Peterson and Jim Martin.
Just like the custom knives he has engraved, Blair’s work should be closely examined to be appreciated. His attention to detail sparkles in his work, which often feature English scrollwork and game scenes cut in a Bulino style.
Blair transforms his steel canvas into an elaborate artwork using a hammer, a chisel and a burin. It’s a painstaking process, but Blair says he gets absolute satisfaction from breathing life into an ordinary piece of metal. And he enjoys the looks of surprise and expressions of delight he sees from his customers.
While some people would not consider a rifle or a knife a piece of art, when these items pass through the hands of master engravers like Jim Blair, they become more than the sum of their parts. With engraving, guns and knives can be admired, not for what they are fundamentally, but rather for having risen above their intended purpose.
Readers may get in touch with Jim Blair at: P.O. Box 64, 59 Mesa Verde, Glenrock, WY 82637; Tel.: 307-436-8115.