Notes from the North Country, by Lon and Lynn Emerick

Follow your passion, the sage advises. Seek that which you love to do, make it your life’s mission and surely you will find peace and harmony of spirit.
Mark Silver has found his passion: he is the maker of exquisitely crafted firearms. No, not just a fabricator of guns, he is a creator of period flintlock rifles. Silver’s rifles are extraordinary works of art. His creations also keep alive the craftsmanship of prior generations and link the present in a tangible way with the past.
Mark and his wife Mary Hindelang live in a remote area southwest of Chassell. Their home is poised on a high bank overlooking the Pike River and reminds us of our own Foster Creek Homestead.
Silver’s enthusiasm for his work spills out of him like water from an artesian well. Clearly, here is a person who is doing exactly what he was meant to do. A decade or so ago, he and Mary abandoned their positions as human services professionals in the city to pursue a simpler and richer life in the country.
They have never looked back.
Turning to his workbench, Silver directs our attention to the building of a nineteenth century firearm he had been working on when we arrived.
“This is an 1810 London .54 caliber sporting rifle,” he says, taking the gun from a vise. “It’s about two-thirds done.”
After spending considerable time with a customer—finding out his expectations and what he intends to do with the firearm—Silver prepares an elaborate plan.
First, the stock is fashioned carefully from a block of maple or other wood. The barrel is then meticulously fitted to the wood and the internal mechanisms—trigger, hammer, pan and frizzen (where the flint hits to create a spark)—are installed.
“The final tasks are checkering the stock and engraving the barrel and receiver,” Silver said.
“How long does this take?” we asked, looking through some of his photographs depicting engravings of elaborate Celtic loops.
“The engraving takes several weeks,” he said. “And it usually takes me a year or so to finish a rifle.”
As with most skilled craftsmen, Silver is modest and prefers to let his workmanship be the focus of attention. He also tries to pass on his skills to apprentices and by giving workshops in various locations around the country. For a look at Silver’s work, see his illustrated book (with Wallace Gusler), Three Centuries Of Tradition: The Renaissance Of Custom Sporting Arms In America. A videotape of restoration methods and techniques is planned for a 2008 release.
Much has been gained by mass production and interchangeable parts. My Ithaca .20-gauge shotgun is identical to my neighbor’s; if we wished, we could exchange barrels or trigger mechanisms. But what has been lost by efficient machinery? The flintlock rifles seen in Mark Silver’s workshop all reflect the individualized expression of pride, personal satisfaction and the spirit of their crafter.
—Lon and Lynn Emerick

Editor’s Note: Comments are welcome by writing MM or to marquettemonthly@ chartermi.net
Lon and Lynn Emerick’s Upper Peninsula books: The Superior Peninsula, Going Back to Central, Lumberjack—Inside an Era, Sharing the Journey, You Wouldn’t Like it Here and You STILL Wouldn’t Like it Here are available at area book and gift stores or by visiting the North Country Publishing site at www.northcountrypublishing.com

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