Belgium — the country being saluted throughout this year's Memphis in May festival — is famous for quality chocolates, full-bodied beers, and yeasty waffles topped with fruit. But the multilingual country bordering France, the Netherlands, and Germany also has a tragically earned history as the battlefield of Europe, and the gunsmiths of Liège developed a reputation for making some of the finest weapons in the world. Eye-dazzling examples of their work are currently on display in the National Ornamental Metal Museum's "Antique Guns from the Collection of the Liège Arms Museum."
Liège, the largest city in Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia region, was a mining town that grew into one of Europe's most important steel-producing centers. Gun-making took root there in the Middle Ages, and by the 17th century, the gunsmiths of Liège had evolved into highly skilled artisans especially adept at producing small portable arms for soldiers and sportsmen. Even as Europe industrialized, they continued to hand-craft weapons as beautiful as they were deadly.
Highlights from the Metal Museum's show include a brace of percussion pistols created for King Leopold I of Belgium with elegantly carved wooden handles; a flintlock pistol with baroque engraving; a needle-fire target pistol (pictured left); and a percussion sporting gun in its case (pictured above). The centerpiece of the exhibit is a high-grade, pin-fire sporting gun with a chiseled stock and beautifully patterned Damascus steel barrels, which was originally presented at the 1867 Paris World's Fair.
"Antique Guns from the Collection of the Liege Arms Museum" at the National Ornamental Metal Museum through June 19th. The museum also hosts the annual Arts on the Bluff Family Day festival on Sunday, April 17th, with live performances, jewelry-making, and other art-related activities.