Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Contemporary Makers Blog Interview with Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson has been on the Contemporary Makers Blog since November 2009 when Russ Young sent a bag tomahawk and a short write up. Since then we have showcased numerous knives, axes, a gamekeepers rifle, his bag and horn from his high school days and a salamander on wheels. This got us thinking about the wide range of his skills and wondering how he got his start.

A couple of french 18th century french trade knives,  a 17th century french padlock , and several smoker's companions.

The smoker's companions were popular in Piedmont America  and the remains of many have been found on 17th and early 18th century sites.

CMB: Brian, how did you get started in creating 18th century items? How long have you been doing this? Since you make a variety of items what came first the blacksmithing or the bag and horn from your high school days?

BA: Making things came first; powder horns and bags to use, then fixing worn muzzleloaders to make them functional again. While still in high school I was taught to ream and rifle old barrels. By the time I finished high school, I realized I had made all the pieces and put together my first rifle. The blacksmithing was another ten years coming.

CMB: Did you study with anyone or has anybody been a particular influence?

BA: I met Dick Hicks in Albuquerque when l was nineteen - He was building Kentucky’s; machining the parts but finishing with files to get the period effects (an important lesson for me concerning the relationships of tools to aesthetics). Mostly I have had a thousand teachers; I am not so much 'self taught' as I have taken lessons wherever I could. I was taught early on that on many pre-industrial objects, 'the instructions are on the piece'.

This is a rifle l built for my daughter several years ago.

It is based on the Allentown-Bethlehem style but built in New Mexico and showing a little western influence.

CMB: Do you keep a variety of different projects going at the same time or do you work on knives a while and then axes and then onto something else?

BA: Usually there are several types of things in the works - If I get into a large ongoing project, I often must take a break in the interests of sanity.

CMB: Do you study many originals? Do you make direct copies or do you tend to create your own designs based on your research?

BA: I study originals whenever and wherever I can and have gotten somewhat adept at reading photos.  Sometimes I make direct copies (good educational exercise), but I often enjoy studying a group and then making something that fits in with what I have seen.

CMB: What is you mark and how did you create it? 

BA: My 'mark' has become somewhat of a joke; it began as a design stitched into leatherwork I was doing. When I began blacksmithing seriously, customers wanted a 'signature' so I translated the stitching into a stamp.  Its origins were Pennsylvania folk art tulips.

   CMB: Do you teach anywhere or do you take on apprentices?

BA: I do teach.  I've had a string of high school kids (apprentices) who expressed an interest, and I do workshops and demos here and there.  Also, I give occasional lessons to expand someone’s experience.

 CMB: When we have featured antique locks you have sent pictures of different ones. Is this something that you collect? What do you collect?

BA: The pictures I sent were of locks l had made. I enjoy studying and making early locks - on occasion l have built a gun just because the style of the lock appealed to me / or a type of gun appealed that required an unavailable lock. I don't consider myself a 'collector'.   It’s more that I have an accumulation of orphans (a lot of them have been my teachers and some I think should not just disappear).

The pistol is Scottish inspired and is of the type referred to as 'heart butt'.  Most were iron or brass stocked but there was at least one with a wooden stock.(about 1710).
Again I made all but the inside of the barrel (a blank from Ed Rayl) and a couple of screws.

Anyway, even without sights it holds well and shoots well.

The other pistol in the last picture is an earlier attempt at an all metal Scot's ramshorn type.

CMB: What is the story behind the salamander on wheels?

BA: I once got into an exchange with a lady that required something out of the ordinary to equalize it ---- and the lizard was the answer.  I have made several over the years.


CMB: What is next thing that you want to create?

BA: I never know  - always looking for inspiration   - I love historical stuff and the stories and attitudes that go with it?????

Here is one of my favorite pieces
A snaphance l built 25 or 30 years ago (l forget)
20 gauge,  41?" barrel, walnut stock, and iron fittings

l did everything but the inside of the barrel and a couple of screws

used to be a favorite turkey gun

l made three;  one placed first at dixons,  another became someone's prized pheasant gun (12 gauge).

CMB: What shows and events do you attend during the year?

BA: I attend the Lewisburg Show in February, Ft. Frederick, Maryland in April, try to make Dixon's, and have stuff at the CLA Show in one form or another.

CMB: How can someone get in touch with you?

Brian Anderson,
447 Frank Orvis Rd,   
Bristol, Vermont 05443

802 453 2199

Photos supplied by Brian Anderson, the cycling salamander by William Baldwin, Brian's mark by Jan Riser.


  1. Brian is a unique artist.I was amazed to see the different timelines and wide diversity of his work.The salamander is the most amusing thing I have ever seen at a show!
    William Baldwin

  2. The thing about Brian's work is that his first attempt at something always look like he has already done it a hundred times. I learned critical lessons from him, I wish my work showed it,
    Charlie Keller

  3. Brian is a master of his craft....he has the eye, the patience, persistence and hands of a true genius of metal work.
    Charles Riddle


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