Marvin Kemper has crafted a groundbreaking piece - a stunning, museum quality reproduction of an early 19th century longrifle in the style of the Bryan family of central Kentucky – that he has graciously donated for the Contemporary Longrifle Foundation 2013 fundraising auction.
By the time of the War of 1812 the “Kentucky Rifle” and the frontiersmen who used it had already captured the imagination of the American public. When the War grew imminent, the danger and perhaps chance of adventure spurred young men who had grown up hearing and reading of the exploits of their elders to volunteer for the War in droves. Fringed hunting frocks, elegant top hats, long knives - and often a fine golden age “Kentucky Rifle” in hand. They marched off to face the old adversaries of their fathers’ times - British, Shawnee, Creek and others, often led by the very veterans they idolized as heroes; men like Isaac Shelby and William Whitley who had first crossed the Appalachians to the Kentucky wilderness 40 years earlier.
What is not readily recognized is the role that early Kentucky gunmakers played in supplying arms to the men who served from the Thames to New Orleans and there is a misconception that “Kentucky rifles were not actually made in Kentucky.” However, by the time of the War of 1812 some of the most prominent, artistic and important schools of southern gunmaking were well established in what is now Kentucky and Tennessee. One of the most prominent early families of southern Trans-Appalachian gunmakers were the Bryans, working in and around Lexington Kentucky at the center of the “Central Kentucky” school of gunmaking. Relatives of the Boones, the Bryan family gunsmiths (William Sr., Daniel, William Turner and Lewis) built distinctive rifles in what we now recognize as the Lexington style in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Like the men who carried them, the Lexington style rifle was an integral part of the close of the eastern frontier and indeed the expansion to the far western mountains.
Having built longrifles in many more commonly known styles, Marvin decided to tackle the challenging yet rewarding task of interpreting and bringing attention to a style not well known and not often attempted by contemporary builders. Marvin’s experience restoring a fine William Turner Bryan rifle allowed him to study and absorb subtle details and features that make the difference to a discriminating eye. He consulted with Shelby Gallien, a noted researcher and collector of Kentucky-made rifles and author of the recently published book, Kentucky Rifles 1775-1900 and closely studied original central Kentucky rifles while planning and executing his build.
Marvin’s interpretation of a Lexington rifle, while not a bench copy of a single piece was built with exacting attention to detail in the style of a number of gunsmiths who worked in central Kentucky including William Graham and the Bryans. It has everything a Lexington rifle should have – and equally important – nothing that it should not – to be a museum-quality interpretation of an early 19th century Lexington rifle. Consistent with other great southern schools in this era, the decorative emphasis in Lexington was on crisp, bold architecture and subtle, finely designed and executed metal work, often set into superbly-figured maple stocks. To get the project “right” Marvin chose to donate and shape by hand the extremely fine curly maple stock from a blank. In order to accurately replicate the work of the Bryan shop, Marvin flawlessly fabricated a copy of an original Bryan triggerguard and other hardware. The triggers – one of the most distinctive features of a Lexington rifle – required manufacture from scratch. Marvin’s skill and attention to detail gives the final product the look of work done instinctively in the Lexington style – like one would expect from the hands of the Bryans themselves. The finely designed hand forged barrel keys with their decorative silver escutcheons, the signature Lexington style patchbox with its concealed hinge, and engraving perfectly executed in Bryan style are subtle details that indeed required many hours of extra work, but were required nonetheless for this rifle to truly represent the quality of work leaving the Bryan shop in the early 19th century. Marvin’s use of subtle aging replicates the look and feel of a treasured piece passed down through generations with the stories of the early frontier and the War. The end result is an extraordinary museum-quality and beautiful recreation.
Marvin’s Lexington style rifle came from the mindset of a new school of contemporary building that takes its inspiration from the work of early gunmakers working west of the Appalachians - exploring uncharted territory and in doing so educating all of us along the way. The Kemper-Bryan rifle is cutting-edge work that I suspect will inspire many others to explore and work in this arena for many years to come. It really is a first of its kind – at least since the last of the Bryan gunsmiths quit working in the 1800s - and a stellar interpretation of the best work from one of the premier southern gunmaking schools of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
CLA Artisan Marvin Kemper is a full time contemporary longrifle builder and restorer of antique Kentucky rifles. Marvin approached the CLA with the idea to build the Lexington style rifle.
Marvin and his creation - the “Kemper-Lexington rifle” – were recently featured in Muzzle Blasts Magazine. Note the crisp, bold architecture of the fine curly maple stock - donated by Marvin for the 2013 CLA Fund raising Auction.
top - an original WT Bryan rifle restocked and restored by Marvin for Shelby Gallien – noted author, collector and historian of Kentucky-made longrifles. This project required extensive research of surviving Bryan rifles to achieve the appropriate architecture. Bottom – Marvin’s contemporary interpretation of a Bryan style rifle. Note the attention to detail in capturing the look of such features as the distinctive triggerguard and patchbox.
these full length views show the sleek lines and bold architecture of the Kemper-Lexington rifle, accentuated by the slim swamped barrel, donated by Rice Barrel Company.
Like other great southern schools of longrifles in the early 19th century the decorative emphasis on Lexington guns was on finely executed metal work, a style perfectly interpreted by Marvin’s rifle.
True to original Lexington rifles of the War of 1812 era, decorative carving on this rifle is reserved and focused on lines of molding to accentuate the architectural lines.
The crisp, clean lines of the comb, wrist and cheekpiece are accentuated by coin silver accents engraved in the Bryan style.
The long, two screw tang is a distinctive Lexington feature; the sculpted architecture of the breech and wrist area accentuates the bold lines of this rifle.
Subtle details can be the deciding factor in making a contemporary interpretation truly bespeak its influences; in this case note Marvin’s attention to detail in the handmade double set triggers with spur finials and triggerguard with long upswept bow– two distinctive and definitive features of original Central Kentucky longrifles.
Every area of this rifle is enhanced by subtle, surprising details as demonstrated by the toplate and silver feather/vent pick inlay perfectly engraved in the Bryan style.
Another of the most instantly recognizable Lexington features is the beautiful and unique Lexington-style patchbox with concealed hinge, enhanced by coin-silver accents, perfectly replicated by Marvin on this rifle.
Hand forged barrel wedges with decorative silver escutcheon inlays, and handmade ramrod pipes required additional work but were important to Marvin’s goal of truly recreating a rifle in the early 19thcentury Lexington style.
Like many original southern gunmakers Marvin chose to proudly sign his work in a coin silver plate set into the barrel. Marvin’s experience as a restorer of antique Kentucky rifles allowed him to capture the look of a treasured family heirloom through subtle patination and aging of the wood and metal.
Kemper-Lexington Rifle Specifications:
Stock - super-fine curly sugar maple, donated by Marvin Kemper.
Barrel - .45 caliber Rice barrel, 44 inches long (donated by Rice Muzzleloading Gun Barrels).
Lock - modified Late Ketland style made by Jim Chambers (donated by Mike Mills).
Hardware and silver – all made or modified, decorated and donated by Marvin Kemper.
Liberty Longrifles LLC · Marvin Kemper, Gunmaker 8996 Winery Road, Wadesville, IN 47638
Phone: 812.985.9325 ·
Copy by Guy Montfort with images supplied by the Contemporary Longrifle Foundation.