Warrior's Clutch

For this year’s CLF fundraising auction, a cadre of some of the most respected artists in the muzzleloading community has teamed up to create a truly remarkable collection christened A Warrior's Clutch. The goal for the craftsmen, explains artist Ian Pratt, was to create “a vibrant, visually striking set of items that reflect the possessions carried by a warrior in the mid-18th century. Although we imagine a general Great Lakes region as our warrior's home, his identity remains unknown.”

The centerpiece of the Warrior’s Clutch collection is, fittingly, the most important tool of a warrior, a firelock. In this case, a masterful composite gun. This particular example is anything but average. “Our gun,” explains Pratt, “is not representative of a European trade gun, it is an American composite gun made utilizing some salvaged French and English parts.” The gun is crafted around a smoothbore .58 caliber Ed Rayl barrel, and assembled by a team of some of the finest craftspeople in the country: Josh Wrightsman forged the mounts and lock bolts; David Rase worked on barrel and parts inletting, stock shaping, and trigger; Ken Gahagan contributed his skills in stock shaping, parts inletting, and the thumbpiece; Ian Pratt tackled lock modification and engraving as well as stock and metal finishing; Brad Emig executed masterful engraving on the buttplate and trigger guard; and artist Jeanne McDonald contributed a beautifully executed hand-woven sling.

This exceptional firearm is ready for service in the field. More than that, it’s also an extraordinary work of art. The stock is imparted with subtle distressing as well as a warmly aged amber hue. Artist Ian Pratt further adorned the stock with a hand painted tribal motif featuring vining scrollwork and a sunburst. “The paint could have been applied by the gun stocker to please a customer,” says Pratt, “or perhaps it was painted by an owner to please himself - or maybe both. It appears that the stock was painted solid black and the red butt end and black designs were overpainted, which could have been done either at the same time or as a later addition.” The unique design scheme leaves the piece with a bit of mystique. “A lot of questions,” muses the artist, “lots to ponder.”

The gun is accompanied by an elegantly proportioned powder horn by artist Tad Frei. To craft the piece, the artist chose a high-grade bison horn. “I’ve handled more buffalo horns than I can remember,” explains Frei, “and this is among the finest I’ve ever seen.” The richly colored and fully paneled powder horn, ready for service in the field, is paired with a hand-woven strap by artist Alec Fourman. The strap is made from 2-ply wool with glass seed beads. The bead pattern is a very simple and common design that shows up in fingerweaving.

A Warrior’s Clutch includes an exemplary pouch by the artistic duo of Eric Ewing and Shawn Webster. A master of leather and fabric work, Ewing assembled the body of this bag from bark-tanned deerskin. Webster crafted the quilled front panel and strap facings; the quillwork on the pouch is appropriate to an open-topped tribal example, but the artist struck his own course, and the design is not strictly in a traditional native form.

No warrior would venture afield without a good knife, and renowned bladesmith Joe Seabolt forged this set’s “Small Warrior” from 1084 steel. This knife envisions a treasured European dagger reworked by the Warrior. Perhaps sitting by the fire he carved the small warrior effigy into the original turned handle to bring additional spiritual power to the blade. Clint Seabolt carved this effigy head was using only a knife. Joe then applied primitive pigments to the handle. The fine quilled sheath shows the owner’s respect for the blade. The double-edged dagger is one of the most difficult items to hand forge well and this is a master level example. Shawn Webster has contributed the beautifully quilled traditional native American neck sheath to complete an interesting set. This is not your typical Sheffield trade knife but a prized possession of the warrior endowed with his personal beliefs.

The use of war clubs pre-dated the arrival of Europeans in North America and continued well into the colonial era. Artist Matthew Fennewald, who has mastered a wide array of disciplines, contributed a truly unique club to the Warrior’s Clutch collection. “To my eyes,” explains Fennewald, the carved effigy on the club “is the great mythical underwater panther, though I tried to leave it somewhat unclear so as to leave it up to the viewer. I'm hoping some see it as a bear, others an otter. Whatever stirs their visual senses.” The club pays homage to original examples, but the finished product, says the artist, is “my take on a club in a contemporary manner.”

Carved from cherry, Fennewald finished the piece with red ochre, milk paint, bear grease, and, as he observes, “a whole lot of burnishing.” This piece is not only a work of art that pays homage to history, it is, in some respects, a tangible connection to the past. To affix the inlaid horn eyes to the carving, the artist used antique nails from the former home of Flanders Callaway, Daniel Boone’s son-in-law and a frontier legend in his own right. This remarkable masterpiece clearly spent a good bit of time in the hands of the artist and is imparted with such a rich patina that it could easily pass as a centuries-old original.

To display this remarkable set, artist Ken Gahagan, one of the most respected gunsmiths in the longrifle culture, crafted an exquisite base inspired by the finest 18th century raised panel cabinetry. Measuring an imposing 39” high and assembled using period-correct mortise and tenon joinery, the piece is painted black with red accents, explains Gahagan, to “play off the colors in the rifle and other items.” The back of the cabinet is removable, rendering the interior of the base fully functional for storage.

Topping the base is a one-of-a-kind display stand custom-designed and hand-forged by Ian Pratt, Ken Gahagan, and Joe Seabolt, with a helpful assist from CLF auction chairman Heinz Ahlers. The piece, explains Pratt, is a “kind of free form vining/treelike apparatus” for the exhibition of the Warrior’s Clutch. Its organic design tastefully complements the collection, which can be illuminated from Gahagan’s lighted base.

For discriminating collectors of the finest frontier art, A Warrior’s Clutch constitutes a visually stunning, museum quality collection that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “A lot of the things that we hope people will see,” says Pratt, “are designed to make the viewer ask the same kind of questions that are asked when unusual antique pieces turn up - we're hoping to make people's minds work through what they're seeing. There are pieces made using traditional materials and techniques (and of course new materials and methods) but put together in ways that are unexpected. We set a general time frame and a loose location to give ourselves a starting point, but the end result was intended to be something fresh and previously unseen.

A Warrior’s Clutch, explains Pratt, “is kind of a still life sculpture, but definitely one that you can dismantle and take to the woods.”

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