Nude women eager and sultry, wild horses galloping against a gold sky, snarling bears and tigers ablaze in gemstone brilliance, all swirl in a fever dream that forces you to reconcile the unworldly beauty of a shotgun engraved by the studio of Creative Art Laboratorio Incisioni in the heart of Italy’s gunmaking region.
You can squabble into the wee hours lubricated by single malts and cigars about the best gun engraver who ever mastered a bulino, and for the most part everyone will score valid points. But the Italians at Creative Art possess their own audacious sensuality like the designers at Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo that become accomplices in wanton seduction.
The incredible mastery of Creative Art’s fantasy style engraving.
Although Creative Art didn’t invent avant-garde fantasy engraving, their visionary interpretations constantly widen the rift between the classical motifs of noble game birds, hunting dogs, landscapes and ornamental scrolls. With fantasy engraving, Creative Art and other accomplished practitioners, in their pursuit of pure art, break from tradition by rendering themes completely divorced from the purpose of the firearm. Bird dogs on a side by side? Instead, how about a lascivious demon seducing a woman in ecstasy? Or a receiver fully engraved with the intricacies of feathers as seen in 3D through a magnifying glass?
In effect, Creative Art shifts the customary emphasis from the shotgun to the art depicted on it.
Creative Art takes floral and scroll engraving to incredible heights on this Purdey.
And even when Creative Art attacks time-honored patterns such as rose-and-scroll, the effect is an emancipation of the senses. Their time-warp artistry takes you down a rabbit hole from Edwardian convention to post-modern deconstruction with the random detour into a futuristic upland terroir.
The engravers at Creative Art strive for the metaphysical. An excerpt from their manifesto reads: “I believe a fine gun can be compared to the music played by a large orchestra: something that is concrete yet metaphysical at the same time. Something that can't be completely described by our senses, like touch or sight, since it requires an emotional involvement at a deeper level.”
The Creative Art “Element of Time” Krieghoff K-80. The client had requested clockwork engraving.
From my earliest involvement in the shotgun sports Creative Art cast a stronger spell than the others – hit the brain’s pleasure receptors with more bite. So expectations ran high as our guide and translator, Giulia Zera, drove us to Via Matteotti, 127-25063 Gardone Val Trompia, Brescia. We arrived at a bland office building and I wondered, “That’s it?”
Inside, my first impressions of Creative Art founders, Giacomo Fausti and Valerio Peli were sort of underwhelming too. Standing next to the reception desk garnished with a scraggily philodendron, Mr. Fausti wearing a blue-striped dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up a few turns and Mr. Peli in his gray t-shirt and red zippered sweatshirt looked like a couple of regular guys who travel second-class on the train to Milan. At a minimum I was expecting earrings and tattoos – maybe a black Goth t-shirt. Not a single visible suggestion out of the ordinary to their explosive creativity.
Giacomo Fausti (left) with Valerio Peli.
The unassuming character continued with the bookkeeper’s sheet-rock office space and acoustical dropped ceilings. The only telltale signs you’ve entered an engraver’s studio are the wall of windows that supports a full-length bench cluttered with tools of the trade belonging to their eight artisans, and the absence of desks. We stood at the reception desk during our visit, as though at a bar, having our conversation, with Ms. Zera interpreting.
We discussed how Mr. Peli and Mr. Fausti were among the five engravers who started Creative Art in 1991, including Giovanni Steduto, Armando Piardi and Ugo Talenti.
The engravers’ bench at Creative Art makes the most of natural light.
They had met on the job at one of the top engravers in Gardone Val Trompia, Bottega Giovannelli. Mr. Fausti explained that starting Creative Art intended to give them more creative control.
“We wanted to do something more innovative and set up a shop to do that,” Mr. Fausti explained.
Initially Mr. Fausti and Mr. Talenti, later joined by Mr. Steduto and Mr. Peli, worked at Mr. Fausti’s house. By the late 1980s they upgraded to a commercial space on Via Meucci with more sunlight and room to accommodate additional engravers. They moved to their bigger, current address in 2002.
A Galazan shotgun engraved by Creative Art.
Business grew steadily but a change was imminent. The Creative Art entrepreneurs met Tony Galazan, owner of Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company in New Britain, Connecticut. Since establishing his company in 1975, Mr. Galazan has become perhaps the best American shotgun maker. The company’s RBL round body, Inverness, Model 21 and Parker reproductions, A10 and Christian Hunter are considered premium field and clays shotguns – with prices on select models approaching $100,000.
In 1991, when Creative Art was officially formed, Connecticut Shotgun began manufacturing a premium sidelock over/under. Mr. Galazan’s penchant for high-art engraving has become legendary. And so there was an alignment of the stars when in 1992 the founders of Creative Art met Mr. Galazan. He gave Creative Art a larger commercial outlet for their fantasy engraving, and the opportunity blossomed.
“It was an evolution,” said Mr. Fausti, “but we started getting more and more requests.”
An example of different colors of gold on a gun by Creative Art.
Creative Art began to concentrate on the use of precious metals and bulino-style engraving, both individually and complementary, for their classical and fantasy designs.
Bulino engraving demands expertise in a sharp burin tool (a bulino in Italian). The bulino is like a punch with a mushroom-shaped handle. With it, the engraver creates grey-tone, photo-realistic images from dots. The best bulino engravers are often artists gifted in drawing, because although the styles are different it should be impossible to distinguish the finished image in steel from the original on paper. Ultimately, you can see the cultural exertion from geographically relevant 15th century Renaissance city-states such as Milan and Venice on the bulino virtuosity of Gardone Val Trompia.
A McKay Brown shotgun engraved with plumage shows the brilliance of the bulino style engraving at Creative Art.
By 1994 Creative Art had gone further by mastering enamels and the painstaking application of pure yellow, red and green gold threads into intricate grids that, when finished, appear as a solid sheet in the background.
“Our mission is to always create something new and stay ahead,” said Mr. Peli. “The results are achieved by developing ideas as a team.”
Irwin Greenstein is the publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at email@example.com.
The firearms engravings from the studio of Creative Art.
Read the other stories in the Shotgun Life series...