08 March 2016

The Honourable Company of Horners

Clinton Byers, journeyman horner
   Twenty years ago, in a cold, dark museum building in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the first ever conference on horn work was assembled by Roland Cadle. After the conference officially ended, twelve visionaries, huddled near a window for light,  decided this should not be a one-shot event but an annual meeting of an organization devoted to those who made objects of horn. Your humble correspondent was elected as the first Guildmaster of the Honourable Company of Horners by those eleven charter members. Last weekend at the U. S. Army Heritage & Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the Guild held its twentieth annual meeting with nearly a quarter of the national membership present.
   "Band of Brothers" (forgive me, ladies of the Guild) is an apt description of this group. No mater how diverse our interests and political persuasions, there is total unity derived from the strength of the common bond: horn work. This group has achieved tremendous growth and fulfilled every goal it has set, including the publication of a landmark book (and another landmark book on Southern Horns soon to be published). You might want to spend a moment touring their website, www.hornguild.org.
John DeWald delivering his presentation
   One of the prime directives of the Guild is to preserve and further the trade of working horn (almost exclusively bovine horn). Toward that end, there is a hierarchical structure within the Guild of levels of achievement: freeman, journeyman and master. At each step, competency must be demonstrated by showing items that were crafted by the candidate. There are only ten people who have earned the title of Master. The newest is John DeWald, who gave his Master's Talk and submitted his masterpieces for judging at this meeting; those masterpieces have yet again raised the bar for the definition of Masterwork. Congratulations. John.

For two days each year, this meeting becomes the world's greatest museum of horn work. To further the Guild's directive of education, not only are there continual live demonstrations of appropriate skills, but displays of both historic and contemporary horn work. Jay Hopkins, who is about to complete his definitive Southern Horns, Volume One, displayed some of his incredible collection of Southern horns and illuminated us about them.

The Guild embraces horn work in its many forms, although powder horns dominate the production. Here is a quill holder and penner by Master Art DeCamp, to illustrate one of the many other uses of horn.

Not everyone present is a horner; some construct accouterments to horn objects. Here is a photo of leatherworker Jim Dell and amongst his products are straps for carrying a powder horn, and shooting bags, the natural companion of a powder horn in America.

There was much more to the convention than what has been shown here but perhaps it will give you, my dear reader, an inking of what transpired. A great time was had by all and as we left the facility, most minds were already considering next year's meeting.

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