Artists have a way about turning the most elementary of things into beautiful pieces of art.
Sculptors have a clump of clay. Painters a plain white canvas.
For master engraver Larry A. Parker of Belmont, Ohio, it’s guns, rifles and other weapons that he transforms into artistic masterpieces.
One of only about 330 hand engravers in the United States, Parker creates works that are highly sought after and cherished. His embellished firearms have appeared on covers of national magazines, while two of his pieces are on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo.
“It’s a dying art,” said Parker, who can currently be seen at Cabela’s in Dallas Pike, W.Va, engraving ivory-grip knives for auction at the National Rifle Association Convention. Proceeds from the auction will help fund various NRA programs and grants benefitting police and youth.
The love that Parker has for his work is evident as he greets each visitor with a smile, freely explains his craft and proudly shows off some of his finest accomplishments, including Krieghoff Model 32 and Ljutic single-barrel trap guns that are highly engraved and adorned with 24-karat gold inlays.
Since Friday, Parker has been doing just that from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at the Cabela’s gun library.
The 70-year-old Parker uses a hammer and chisel to engrave his beautiful designs on the hardest of metals. As an example, Parker has on display a Smith & Wesson Model 500 handgun that he was told was impenetratable by company representatives.
“It took me a year to finish,” Parker boasted. “When I showed it to them, they were in awe.”
Parker’s career in engraving began when he was a young hunter and admirer of high-grade firearms and antique rifles.
The son of a carpenter, Parker said he began making all types of rifles since there “were no kits then.”
Then, “I could do everything, but I wanted to learn how to engrave,” he explained.
He proceeded to take courses at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, where he studied under Neil Hartliep. He also studied at Montgomery Community College in Troy, N.Y., under instructors Lynton McKenzie and Ray Virmontez, both well known for their experience and talent in engraving.
Parker started his engraving business in 1958. Even after 55 years, he spends most of his time working on pieces despite having both wrists “done” due to carpal tunnel.
The piece he is most proud of – and the one that holds the most sentimental value – is the BB gun that belonged to his only child.
After Parker’s 24-year-old son Arik suddenly passed away on July 22, 1990, he engraved his son’s gun. The act not only honored Arik but also helped Parker heal after the unexpected death.
“I used to not be able to talk about this,” he said.
While Parker’s pieces are highly sought after today, he said he’s unaware of who may actually possess some of his work.
“I would rather engrave a piece for a blue-collar worker than someone that’s got more money than sense,” he said.
Parker and his exhibit are at Cabela’s through Tuesday.