Book Review: Giancarlo & Stefano Pedretti – Master Engravers

Giancarlo & Stefano Pedretti – Master Engravers is the third book in a series on Italy’s most prestigious and venerated engravers. The book contains 256 pages of text and sumptuous full-color plates in an oversized hardcover format. The first Master Engraving volume featured the work of Gianfranco Pedersoli; the second, the art of Firmo and Francesca Fracassi.

 

It is daunting, of course, to write a book about matters that are three dimensional, that have weight and contour and that can only be fully appreciated by handling them, by holding them up to the light and viewing them in three hundred and sixty degrees, as one would a piece of sculpture. Books, to belabor the obvious, can offer only text and photographs.

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Yet, within those cages of words and two-dimensional visual images, authors Elena Micheli-Lamboy and husband, Steven Lamboy, and publisher/editor S.P. Fjestad have crafted a volume that illuminates extraordinary physical creations in luscious color and depth, which stirs the soul, expands the mind and, I do not go out on a limb by writing, it causes the fingers to tingle. Mauro Negri has done the photography and Andrea Marconi did the interior design and layout.

I have had the privilege of visiting the studios – the bottegas – of many of Italy’s finest engravers. I have been awed by their work, their talent and their humility. I have not met Giancarlo or Stefano but I have seen examples of their work. Given the authors’ lyrical ability to convey the passion and values of this rare father-and-son team, I am persuaded they are pervaded by the same virtuous qualities I observed in the artists I met that are also included in Italy’s Pantheon of master engravers.  

The book is logically structured. It begins with a Foreword by Steven Fjestad, then presents a brief history on the Museum of Firearms and Gunmaking Tradition in Gardone, Val Trompia, proceeds to describe the development of Studio Pedretti and the artistic journeys of Giancarlo and Stefano and then moves to a comprehensive presentation of their work. The book ends with a detailed depiction of the artistic, technical and communications dimensions of the engraver’s relationship with the client. Sprinkled throughout the volume like croutons on a Caesar Salad are quotations of prominent artists, public officials and many client testimonials.

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Giancarlo Pedretti was born in Gardone Val Trompia within the province of Brescia on February 16, 1947 into a family of gunmakers, hunters and engravers. During the summer of 1960, at the age of thirteen, he began his career as an apprentice at the legendary Beretta bottega, most likely selected because his father and one or more uncles engraved for Beretta.

After the Second World War, Beretta had become the primary training school for new gunmakers and engravers in the Valley. Studying under masters such as Tononcelli, Baglioni and Bregoli, Giancarlo’s passion and natural talent blossomed and recognition of his skill and creativity became manifest. Beretta hired him after three years of apprenticeship. During this period, Giancarlo cultivated friendships with and studied the works of such engraving luminaries as Medeci, Galeazzi, Fracassi and Pedersoli.

In 1969 Giancarlo became a semi-independent engraver, working at home and taking on his own commissions. In the 1980’s his relationship with the prestigious gunmaker, Abbiatico & Salvinelli, solidified and he began working full time for that firm. After a meeting with Nigel Beaumont, Giancarlo became the first Italian engraver to engrave a Purdey firearm, which he completed in 1990.

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Stefano, born in 1972, demonstrated a love for drawing at a young age and initially desired to pursue the fine arts. At the age of fourteen he enrolled in a five-year program at the Caravaggio School of Art in Brescia to refine his drawing skills. He graduated cum laude in 1991. Fortuitously, working with his father and in the milieu of other outstanding engravers, Stefano learned fundamental engraving techniques.

Torn between pursuing a career in the fine arts as opposed to engraving, Stefano negotiated a rather aggressive agreement with his father: Stefano would apprentice with his father for eight months and if, at the end of that term, Stefano did not believe he had the capability to rise to the highest standards of excellence, his father must send him to graduate school in art. Evidently Stefano fulfilled the pre-condition. He produced his first bulino game scene on a knife eight months later and the father and son team of Studio Pedretti began.

The lyrical text reads so seamlessly it is easy to overlook the almost Sisyphean challenge facing the translator—to capture in English the Italian flavor and passion. Elena’s transcendent translating skill gives vivid life to this stunning volume, permitting the reader to glide along as if on a tranquil lake rather than face the rough waters of a language barrier.

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Elena was born in Gardone in 1968, coincidentally only a few blocks from the Beretta factory and from where Studio Pedretti would later find its home. Possessing a talent for languages, Elena studied in England and Germany from age 14, completed her PhD at the prestigious School of Languages at the University of Milan and worked in the Far East, Russia, Europe and the United States. Her goal, she told me, was “to simplify the complicated while precisely illuminating the meaning of each word for her clients.”

I had met Steve Lamboy several times at SHOT Shows and Safari Club conventions. I met Elena and Steve again in Gardone last fall when, orchestrated by Steve, I was on a writing assignment for and guest of the elite gunmaking firm, Antonio Zoli.

I select a few passages to illustrate the authors’ eloquent presentation of the hearts and minds of the Pedrettis. In the Introduction, the Lamboy’s write of the Pedrettis’ technical acumen, “They have mastered all the known techniques and created a new generation as well. However, their game scene engravings possess a quality which is both singular and spiritual in nature, and which reveals much about their life and passion.”

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Another poetic passage states: “The large scale pointers are one of their signatures today. You can feel them tremble as they hold the point. They are as alive on the sideplate as they were in real life! You can smell the ripening vegetation in the heat of the fall sun.”

The Work

The expansive and elegantly illustrated section of their engraving brings to the reader examples of the finest guns that have been enhanced by the Pedrettis’ full array of engraving styles and techniques, including the ornamental style done with hammer and chisel, the bulino done with the burin and hand pressure and the inlaying of precious metals. Here the authors describe the vital and harmonious relationship between the gunmaker and the engraver as they work in perfect unison like an Olympic ice skating pair. Through the creation of the gun and the art, the reader will also see the bridge between the client and the dream.

I found it impossible not to linger over the photographs. I touched them as gently as if caressing a new born baby, expecting to feel the pulse of the dog or the feathers of the quail and pheasant or the hot sweat of the charging rhinoceros.

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Many Piotti shotguns are photographed, including a dazzling side-by-side in .410 gauge. The spectrum of styles and skills are on display in the photographs on pages 40-41, including gold inlay and the black woodcock, a treatment difficult to execute to control the light reflection. The photographs of the action, appearing on pages 44 and 45, illustrate an explosion of flora and fauna, deep cut ornamental representations, bulino woodcock, arcs, flowers, precious metals, and gold bands on the breech end of the barrels.

The work is so intricate it is as if the engraver intentionally challenged the boundaries of the steel. The setter in black and the Labrador in white on a Piotti illustrated on page 51 exhibits the results of extraordinary skills in angling the burin to sculpt and direct the light.

The reader will view example upon example of the finest guns on the planet—Bosis, Fabrri, Purdey, Holland & Holland, Beretta, Galazan—lavishly engraved by Giancarlo and Stefano. A Holland & Holland .500 NE double rifle boasts a black elephant with cracked leathery skin juxtaposed with a lighter toned rhinoceros, both on a gold background. The photograph is breathtaking but the requisite skill needed to engrave these animals defies description.

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Collector Ron Holden wrote, “I love to see the passion the Pedrettis bring to the gun making fraternity and engraving. It is that passion that sets the example for others to try to achieve their greatness.” Douglas Tate wrote a beautiful accolade to the Pedrettis in his superb review: “The father-and-son team eclipse earlier efforts at borders, substituting stylized grasses, forbs, and leaves for traditional scroll settings. The result is both elevated realism and a distinctive signature style.”

By studying their work, the reader, and, of course, one fortunate enough to own the gun, can see and feel Giancarlo’s and Stefano’s capacities to transmit through their art their love and respect for and understanding of Nature and hunting.

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I spoke with Elena to get background material for this review. She shared personal anecdotes that give further depth and richness to this article. Over dinner, Laura, Stefano’s wife and college sweetheart, told Elena that reading this book allowed her to know and understand and appreciate her husband’s work in greater depth. Elena confided to me that Laura’s spontaneous and genuine words were deeply moving and are among the greatest compliments she and Steve may receive. My guess is that Elena and Steve will receive several such words of praise.

More than two hundred guests attended the official presentation of the book at the Museum of Firearms in Gardone, described by Elena as “a magical evening.” It was probably one of the very few times that so many master engravers—Pedersoli, Torcoli, Fracassi, Creative Art, among others—had gathered to respect one of their colleagues.  When Stefano and his father spoke, their unconstrained emotions and gratitude indicated the depth of their appreciation for being honored.

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For the Lamboys, working with the Pedrettis was an elevating experience. Not only are they master engravers, Elena said to me, but they are exquisite compassionate people. Elena remarked, “We were friends before the book but the book has strengthened our mutual respect and friendship.”

Elena and Steven Lamboy and Steven Fjestad have accomplished something extraordinary with this luminous volume. More than illuminating their art, they have illuminated Giancarlo’s and Stefano’s artistic soul and vibrant passion. The grand scope of the Pedrettis work and their excellence of character are aptly summarized in the inspired Dedication:

This book is dedicated to Stefano and Giancarlo Pedretti and our lasting friendship. As true Italian master artisans, they are in a select group of the world’s most creative individuals. As true artists they are among the few who strive continuously to go beyond the creative barriers described in a current masterpiece, thereby giving us new works of unimaginable beauty. Yet, in spite of talent and notoriety, they offer us something far more valuable today. They offer a true and genuine humility, generosity and a warm willingness to serve so rarely found in today’s world.

Giancarlo & Stefano Pedretti – Master Engravers would be a welcome addition to the collection of any lover of fine guns and fine engraving. All involved in its production are to be congratulated for their work, their dedication and their nobility of purpose – the pursuits of beauty and excellence.

Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer in Denver, Colorado whose practice emphasizes estate planning. He lectures nationally to bar associations on the ethics of rhetoric as a legal competence and a litigation skill. He also presents to private companies and civic groups on the use of rhetoric as a management skill. As a freelance writer he has been published in many of the finest shooting and hunting magazines, including Double Gun Journal, Shooting Sportsman, Safari Magazine and Sporting Classics. He is pleased to have written many of the most comprehensive articles on the Beretta family and its fine firearms.

Find out how to purchase Giancarlo & Stefano Pedretti – Master Engravers by clicking here.

Michael G. Sabbeth

Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer in Denver, Colorado. He lectures on ethics and rhetoric to law associations and civic and business groups. He is the author of the The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values. Please visit his website at www.kidsethicsbook.com.

Website: www.kidsethicsbook.com
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