March 19, 2010

When internationally known custom shotgun and rifle manufacturers need an engraver, they don’t place a call to the local jeweler. They seek out the finest engravers in the world. And one of the best lives not in Italy or in England, but in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, in the small hamlet of Evington, south of Lynchburg.

For more than a decade, Lisa Tomlin has engraved shotguns and rifles for such renowned gun makers as the John Rigby Company and Mountain Riflery, the latter of which recently sold a custom rifle for $225,000. Former President George Herbert Walker Bush owns a Rigby custom shotgun engraved by Tomlin. So do Gen. Normal Schwarzkopf, John Milius (director of the Dirty Harry movies) and former test pilot Chuck Yeager. Geoff Miller, Rigby’s managing director, calls Tomlin “one of the best engravers in the world, if not the best.”

John Bolliger, who owns Idaho-based Mountain Riflery, was so impressed with Tomlin’s work that he flew to Virginia just to meet her. “Our market is the top two or three percent of those individuals buying guns,” he says. “We just supplied a gun to the King of Spain.” He says that the importance of a talented engraver cannot be overstated. “I have built guns whose value has been diminished by a poor engraver, and I have built guns that have gained in value because of the engraver.”

Tomlin, who uses the classic hammer and chisel method, engraves about five guns a year. She learned her craft from Ken Hurst, a Master Engraver for Colt, whose company also did work for Ducks Unlimited and others. Says Tomlin, “I asked Ken for a job, but he said he didn’t need additional employees. However, he asked me to draw an elk on a piece of paper the size of a quarter. I submitted it and he hired me. I trained for weeks; he had me make at least a thousand commas with a hammer and chisel before he would let me work on any projects. He wanted to make sure I could handle the tools properly. If the chisel slips on the piece you’re working on, there could be a real problem.”

Tomlin has very few problems, which is why Miller considers her engravings to be works of art that could one day be “as famous and valuable as a Picasso.” That’s heady praise for a woman who loved to pencil-draw animals as a child and later hoped her work would be noticed. It has, and as she says, “In a way it has been rather humbling.”


March 19, 2010

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Lisa Tomlin

I enjoyed the story and would like to read more about Virginia small business owners who are making a name for themselves on a national or international scale. Thanks to author Clarke C. Jones for bringing this artist to my attention. More, please.

terry jones more than 2 years ago

Article: The Picasso of Guns

Today, 07/28/11, I just read the article. I've had the honor of chatting with, by phone and e-mail, Lisa. Of her talent I can only say her work is phenomenal.
I am the lucky owner of a very special 1911 with both a 4 1/4" .45 slide and a 5" .22 slide, frame by Rock River, slides by Israeli military and Colt's Mfg, custom built by Richard Niemer, polisher & blued by Marc Fuller, and engraved & inlaid by Lisa Tomlin. What a treasure my 'retirement pistol'.

Michael Hamilton more than 2 years ago


Mr. Lukens,
Thanks for your comment, with which we heartily agree -- but we can run only what we have, and what we had for this brief piece when it ran in the magazine was just this one image. You might enjoy checking the websites of the gun makers ( and, which have nice photo galleries.

Christine Ennulat more than 3 years ago

More Pictures, Please!

The one picture of Mr. Bush's shotgun is pretty, but I would love to see several more. One of the neat functions of a website is to provide more than the magazine in picture content. More, please?

Bill Lukens more than 3 years ago

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