One of the Country's Finest Gun Engravers
How Lisa Tomlin turned a childhood obsession with drawing animals into a career as one of the country’s finest gun engravers
Constrained by trigger and bolt and breech, the gun engraver’s canvas is hardly the size of a playing card. A few square inches with possibly another stamp-size space or two. That’s where she is asked to express the surprise flush of a pheasant, the quiver of a pointing dog’s flank, the thunder of an elephant scenting danger.
For Lisa Tomlin, that’s just enough. The fifty-two-year-old engraver, who lives on a former Virginia Blue Ridge horse farm, has quietly assumed the status of one of the country’s foremost artisans in a medium more closely associated with Europe and the custom studios of the great American arms manufacturers of the Northeast. She has no formal art training, no college degree. She has views of the Blue Ridge, a tiny hammer, a quiver of handmade chisels, and a jaw-dropping client list.
Tomlin has engraved guns for General Norman Schwarzkopf, Dirty Harry director John Milius, and a who’s who of Safari Club International hunters. For General Chuck Yeager, she engraved the Bell X-1 airplane Yeager flew when he first broke the sound barrier, in 1947. When a custom gun maker was searching for an artist to embellish a one-of-a-kind 20-gauge custom side-by-side for President George H. W. Bush, the telephone rang in tiny Evington, Virginia, a dozen miles southwest of Lynchburg.
“Really,” a still-starstruck Tomlin says quietly, “it’s hard to imagine.”
What’s harder still: imagining that it all started at a flea market.
“As long as I can remember, I loved pencil drawing,” Tomlin says. Growing up in the suburban outskirts of Lynchburg, she took dogs and horses and cats and birds as her subjects; whatever struck her fancy, sitting in a quiet corner of her childhood home. “But animals,” she recalls, nearly crooning. “Always animals. That set the tone for what I would one day do for a living, but of course, who could have known?”