Where did the Rigby Art idea emerge from?
It’s an idea that evolved over time in discussions I had with Rigby’s managing director Marc Newton. It started when I created a bronze lion sculpture, called ‘The Price of the Reign’, which took 120 hours to complete. We then started to discuss creating other pieces of art and how to make them special for our clientele. It was just an idea that grew day-on-day when I started to do drawings. We then decided to launch Rigby Art as a department and did so successfully at The Game Fair 2019. We now have plans to take it forward by bringing in more engravers and building an art gallery.
How exciting is it to be heading up such an innovative project?
I’m very excited about it because we’re writing history. Art techniques have been the same for centuries, but we’re going to do it our way and not compare ourselves to others. Thanks to the Rigby ledger, in 50 years’ time we’ll be able to look back and see who the first people to invest in Rigby Art were and reminisce over the items they bought. Each limited-edition piece is available to view in the workshop and will be in the gallery when it opens next year.
How did you become an artist and engraver?
I started drawing before I learned how to walk. I was brought up in the French countryside near the Swiss and German border. I don’t really come from an artistic family, but it’s a skill I developed from childhood.I’m told by my parents that I used a pencil for the first time when I was really young. Since then I have continued to draw throughout my life. I discovered engraving when I was eight years old, seeing the guns and rifles in my father’s gunrack. From that moment on I have always wanted to be an engraver. From the age of 19, I trained for six years at the Léon Mignon, Liege School of Gunmaking in Belgium, specialising in animals for four years. I started working for Rigby as an engraver in August 2015 and I have loved every minute of it.
So, are you a better artist or engraver?
I really just want to enjoy what I love to do, which is a bit of everything;engraving, sculpture, drawing and maybe something else in the future. I’m passionate about wildlife, especially African animals, and my goal through Rigby Art is to create realistic works of art that show the animals in their true form.
Where did your passion for African animals come from?
I’ve always loved them. I can’t remember when it started, but I’ve always been intrigued by them and therefore attracted to Africa. It’s just something inside me; it’s a call I can’t ignore.
Who else do you have in the new Rigby Art department?
At the moment the department consists of me and Saija Koskialho, our Finnish engraver. We have created five drawings, which are selling really well. We have three stamps and the big lion sculpture, but when the building extension is complete, and we grow from two to five or six engravers and artists in the department, we will have a lot more artwork.
How important is it to integrate the Rigby brand and ethos into your work?
It is critical that we work on subjects that fit within the hunting and shooting domain. But I love animals, especially African animals, so it is easy for me to work in the Rigby context. Within that we have complete freedom of expression and we are able to be free, creatively which is very important for an artist.
How was the launch received at The Game Fair?
The visitors to our stand were very curious and it went reallywell. We had a lot of journalists at the launch event and they were excited to hear about this new development. It’s completely new and unique for a gunmaker to launch its own collection of art. Naturally that makes it very exciting and in many ways, we are just pulling the trigger. I see us as pioneers of a new aspect of gunmaking. Of course, gunmaking is also an art in itself when it is done well. As gunsmiths we are creating great engraving, beautiful stocks and fantastic precise mechanisms, so why not do drawings and other art pieces that compliment this work. Art is a very wide field, so why should we be limited to just engraving, stocks and mechanisms? We’re aiming to have as many different types of artforms as we can. It’s going to open the vision people have of art. We showed some of our stamps at The Game Fair and visitors who had never seen them were very impressed.
What is special about Rigby Art?
We want to make it affordable but also exclusive, which then gives intrinsic and unique value to each piece of work. As part of this we’ll be bringing out limited-edition art. Of our first drawings, so far, I have created images detailing the lion, the leopard, the buffalo and the rhino. That makes four of the “big five” and the last one will be the elephant. I’m going to do this one much bigger but make only 25 copies. Whether it is a sculpture, drawing, lithographic print and or something else, every piece of art created will be serialised and entered into the Rigby ledger books, so no matter if you buy a large drawing or small sculpture, our customers will own a piece of history. That’s special.
What else do you have planned?
Having completed the big bronze lion sculpture, we’re planning to do smaller sculptures. We’re also planning to do more big drawings. We’re planning to do some stamp etching, which is an engraving we put on the milling machine. Then, on paper, you can make a stamp of the negative. We’re considering hiring an engraver who also has scrimshaw skills. There are plenty of other different types of art we can do. I’m doing drawings in black and white but we could have water colours…what excites me is the possibilities are endless. One project idea we have is to do all the Jim Corbett drawings in the Rigby book and make them into sculptures. That is of course a huge project, so there’s lots to look forward to. It’s a great opportunity to be really creative.
What plans do you have for the gallery?
We realised after speaking to our British clients at The Game Fair that they would favour artwork of species hunted in the UK. So we’re planning to do drawings of the six deer species found in the UK. This project will include red deer, roedeer, fallow,muntjac, Chinese water deer and sika. We hope that by creating unique collections of artwork like this, we will attract different clients. When we have five or six engravers and the new gallery up and running, I firmly believe it will go very well. Our aim is to have a lot of new and varied art work in a short space of time.
Will your other staff members be doing drawings as well?
It will be entirely up to each engraver. The important aspect of Rigby Art is everyone will be an engraver first but will be able to express themselves creatively. So, for example, if someone wants to do black and white drawings like I do, they can. If they want to do colour drawings, they can. If they want to do water colours, they can. Each engraver will be free to express their own artistic style within the domain of hunting and Rigby’s history.I am really looking forward to what the team can produce.
Overall, how do you feel about heading up this pioneering project?
It is really satisfying and on a personal note it feels like a great reward for all the hard work I have created over the last four years since I joined Rigby, to come together. I have been enjoying the work I do at Rigby more and more every day. The creation of Rigby Art has made me extremely proud and for this reason alone I am going to ensure I carry all the engravers with me.
For more information about Rigby Art, visit: www.johnrigbyandco.com