Cafe Interview with Lee Griffiths

Tira

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I was first introduced to Lee in the summer of 2004 while taking his scroll design class at GRS. Fortunately for me, our paths have crossed several times since. He is a humble and wonderful man. He won't tell you about the awards he has won or mention his accomplishments, but is always willing to answer questions and help other people to get a little further down the engraving road.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Lee Griffiths.

::: Engraving :::

Q. What's your name?
A. Lee Griffiths

Q. Where are you from?
A. Idaho until 7 months ago when I crossed the state line and landed in northern Utah.

Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. I believe I started the winter of 97.

Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. When one is a farmer it's easy to find motivation to look elsewhere for employment and I have always enjoyed art.

Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. Full time and my mother even thinks I'm professional.

Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. One tap at a time but it all began one day when my farmer neighbors came down in the middle of winter. We aren't as busy then. They were making some knives and wanted them embellished. Engraving or scrimshaw. Schrim ...what? I was clueless so they hurried home and brought a magazine with pictures of engraved knives which piqued my interest and as luck would have it I learned of a fellow about 25 miles away that engraved and we became acquainted. Much of my progress has come from visiting with others specifically the Fega crowd. Wonderful people.

Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. Time and money. Sound familiar.

Q. Are you a hammer & chisel and/or push engraver, or do you use pneumatic tools, or a combination of hand and power?
A. Started with a hammer that I shaped out of steel on a bench grinder in the farm shop along with a hand piece that was a pin vice with a carriage bolt weld to the top and a piece of hydraulic hose pulled over. It also served as my first push graver. My first vice was a bag of wheat. Did I mention I was a farmer? After a while I got a job doing a rifle and used the money to buy a gravermax and have continued with pneumatic and hand push.

Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. Anything with great pictures. I enjoy seeing the different styles of different engravers and regions.

Q. Of the old engraving masters, whose work is among your favorite?
A. I haven't looked at many of the old masters. I seem to enjoy some of the modern group so much I am usually looking at their work however Meeks has some wonderful examples in his book from those who have now left us. I suppose as soon as one leaves us we can call them old such as McKenzie, Greibell, Warren, Meeks. I've seen a couple of Kornbrath castings that I greatly admire.

Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix it?
A. It has to be lettering. I think the crowd is agreeing with me. I was gold inlaying the name of the gunmaker and when I was almost done I stepped back to admire my work and ........a letter had been left out in the middle of one name. After a sleepless night I looked again and realized I had enough room at the beginning of the word to inlay soft iron in the first 3 letters and slide those three to the left leaving enough room to insert the missing letter. It turned out well enough that no one ever knew and I'm not telling.

Q. What is the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. Guns with a little bit of everything.

Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. Mostly an optivisor with occasional microscope.

Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. Design but it is also the most fun.

Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. Waiting for the check.

Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. Design. It will either make or break.

Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. The more I do the more I enjoy it except when a letter is left out. That's when the joy flees.

Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. Subject matter that I find distasteful or obscene.

Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago?
A. Certainly better and should be given our tremendous technological advantages. I contend that the old masters given our technology would be turning out engraving on par with today's best.

Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. Hammer and chisel is giving way to pneumatic.

Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
A. From what I've seen you can find wonderful engraving in all lands even Utah (thanks to Sam Welch). Two years ago I saw some Russian engraving at a show that was stunning.

Q. What affect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. My website has brought me work. hehehe The opportunity to see other work and steal ideas. I'M JUST KIDDING. Kind of.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Either be patient or stubborn. Patience Is the higher virtue but stubborn is also useful. Lot's of drawing and ask lots of questions.

::: Personal :::

Q. How many children do you have?
A. Five. Two we made, two we bought, and one we found. So you want an explanation? So do I sometimes. Two by birth, two by adoption, and one because she had no family or home. Sometimes I forget which one came which way. I guess that means they are all family.

Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. With five kids it seemed smart to give a permanent position of domestic engineer/ referee.

Q. If you have traveled, what was the most exciting country you visited and what did you enjoy most?
A. Europe. I enjoy history, art, and culture. They have a significant head start on America.

Q. Do you have an interesting experience while traveling that you'd like to share?
A. Witness protection program won't allow.

Q. What's the most interesting experience you had when meeting people?
A. No single one comes to mind. Collectively it's been a fascinating ride and the friends I've made are treasures.

Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. Art, music, theater, sports, outdoors, reading, socializing, goofing off..........................

Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. With family/friends then alone then again with family/friends.

Q. What's one thing of which you are most proud?
A. Family.

Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. My father and mother.

Q. Tell us something few people know about you.
A. 2 black belts in martial arts. I thought it was a requirement in order to be the father of five.

Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. Working in the farm shop and I heard it on the radio. Ran home to see it on the TV. A senseless, horrific tragedy.

Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. Intolerance and lack of objectivity.

Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. Since my recent move to a university town I've enjoyed college sports, the local opera company, and neighbors for the first time in my life. I hope they get used to me.

Q. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?
A. Religious- Christ and any of the apostles or prophets. History- Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Churchill. Living-family and friends......who's buying?

Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. Parents and religious figures. It's likely they are all a bit disappointed.

Q. Who (living or deceased) would you most liked to have met?
A. People from the bible. Historical figures.

Q. Describe what you would think of as a perfect day.
A. No bills.

Q. Tell us a good short, clean joke.
A. Hear about the guy who walked into a bar................................you would have thought he would duck. My longer jokes are better.

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. My thanks to all of you who over the past few years have helped me and tolerated me. Thanks for the friendship and encouragement.
 

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Abigail

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#4
I totally enjoyed that interview! Fantastic.
Wow...the engraving of the man in the coon skin cap is amazing. It looks like a photograph.
and what a beautiful family.
Cheers,
Abigail
 

SamW

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#5
Excellent Lee. You have come such a long way in such a short time! And made a lot of friends in the process. Your years of pen and ink really show in the fine quality of your work. Your family is growing so I recommend that 3rd belt!

S
 

Peter E

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#7
Another great interview. I viewed one of Lee's tapes on Design & Layout and this interview confirms my impression that he is a fine engraver and a person that would be a pleasure to meet.

The Young knife engraved for 2Toes is just beautiful.

Once again I would like to express my gratitude for all this forum provides.

Thanks,
Peter
 

John B.

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#10
Congratulation on a wonderful interview, Lee.
It's good to get a little insight into both your great work and beautiful family.

Best regards, John B.

Thank you Tira, Sam and Abigail for providing this for us.
 

sam

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#11
Lee, your interview is entertaining and enlightening, and your work just keeps getting better with each piece. Your artistic skill makes itself apparent in your work. Thanks for sharing yourself with Cafe. / ~Sam
p.s. I wasn't aware of your martial arts degrees. I promise I'll start being nicer to you from now on.
 
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#12
Lee, my friend, your interveiw was wonderful, as so is your engraving.

Tira, Thank you for allowing use it have a little peek into Lee's private life, excellent interveiw.

Oh, Lee, my mother absolutly LOVES her coin. Thank you again.

David
 

Weldon47

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#13
Lee,

What a wonderful interview!
I thoroughly enjoy your keen wit & sense of humor! Thanks for sharing & letting us get a closer look at your absolutely stunning work.

Weldon
 

Lee

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#17
I'm almost embarrassed by all of the nice comments on the other hand most of us have too many days that are all fetch and no pat on the head. Thank you.
Dave D. - I hope to meet your mother. Maybe next time I'm out. Glad she likes it.
Dave B. - The pleasure was all mine and best luck with your engraving.
Sam A - I'm the most harmless black belt ever. A disgrace to the title. Couldn't beat my way out of a wet paper bag. Don't get my two littles ones riled. That's when the real trouble starts.
Sam W. - Any new belt is becoming longer. Not desirable.
2toes- John Young put together a terrific knife. Congratulations, a pleasure for me to work on such a splendid canvas.
 

Rick Eaton

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#18
Lee,
Great interview, allways enjoy seeing your work. Enjoyed our trip last year to Glendo and back, glad to see you moved closer to town. Keep up the great work.
All the best
Rick
 
Joined
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#19
Lee,

It was a pleasure to meet with you this past January in Reno (after all the email correspondence).

I admire your work and enjoyed seeing it in person in Reno. I would like to Thank you for taking the time to show me the work of Robert Swartley. Enjoyed the interview very much.

M A Smith
 

Lee

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#20
Everyone should treat themselves to a viewing of Robert Swartley's work....art. Mark, I look forward to seeing you and your work again.
 
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