Weldon Lister of Boerne, Texas is one of Texas’ (if not the world’s) most well-respected engraver. A simple man who works out of a small studio in his home, Lister has built a catalog of work that has had him commissioned for work by everyone from George W. Bush to countless movie stars. As he nears the 40 year mark on his career, Lister discusses what motivates him, what inspires him, and what is next for him.
Lister’s father was also an engraver (amongst other things), and had grown in skill to the point that he was working on engraving for the Texas Rangers, which enthralled the young Lister. He explains, “I’d go with him on the weekends to his shop and watch them all engrave. What your dad does is normal to you, and in this case he was engraving guns, so it was normal to me. Somebody told me when I was 17 that one day your dad will be gone and if you don’t learn his craft, it’ll go with him. It shook me. I had this new sense of urgency about it and I went to him and asked if he would teach me to engrave. HE said ‘I will show you everything I know – what you pick up is up to you’.”
Lister, under the instruction of his father, began his learning. “August of ‘79 we started. It was pretty awful and brutal to start, but that’s how you start. By October of 79 I had progressed to where he thought I could cut a gun. It was a Colt for a doctor from Laredo, and I’ve done well over 1000 of those guns now. The 2nd gun I did was for a Texas Ranger, and I was 17, and I figured that if I screwed this up I’d be dead or in prison. I’d be making belt buckles for the prison rodeo. I did it, he liked it, and 30 years later I met that fellow again and he still loved his gun and I was very pleased that he did. I’ve done work for a LOT of the Texas Rangers now.”
While the quality of engraving that Lister does is something that can rarely be taught, Lister took to it and has obviously excelled. He continues, “I think the creative process is my favorite part. I wonder what would have happened to me if I didn’t have a dad that would show me what he did. So many times we see people that don’t know what they’re cut out to do and they hit my age and they freak. They don’t understand that you need to be passionate about what you do and when you’re in a place where you can do that then you’re doing the thing that God made you to do. My gift is to be artistic and creative. When you’re working in that arena, you’re not really working.”
Lister’s workspace is little more than a few square feet of benchtop where he spends countless hours slowly tapping away at the metal as he forms his art. What looks tedious to the observer is a slow and methodical process for Lister to create his masterpiece. He explains, “It amazes me to stand there and hold a chisel in one hand and a hammer in another and to chisel and make metal look beautiful. It can be frustrating, but there’s a lot of satisfaction at getting what’s inside you as the artist onto your canvas. The vision is in the mind of the artist, and the challenge is to get it out of your heart and mind and get it onto your canvas and to carry out that vision. To be any good at it, you have to be able to see it in your mind’s eye and make it clear. There are parts where it does not look great, and in fact it might look awful…but don’t quit there. You just keep going.”
When asked how many pieces he has worked on, he laughs and simply says “I have done literally thousands of Colts, and simply an untold number of buckles and knives and instruments.” With an 18 month backlog on his work, Lister is looking forward to his 40th anniversary of engraving work to begin to shift gears and change the scope of his work. He explains, “In October of this year I’m going to stop taking commissions. I’ve got a backlog I’m working on and after that I’m going to create things I want to create. I’ve worked for clients for 40 years. I’m not tired of it but I think the 40th anniversary mark is a good one to turn the chapter. I’d like to do things that aren’t routinely encountered in this platform. I’ve got some visions for some art on the Colt that aren’t typical. We all know what the typical engraving looks like, and I’d like to do some stuff that looks different. I’ve developed an oak leaf engraving that is multi-dimensional and layered…and you can spot my work and it’s identifiable so it’s my own technique and I’d really like to focus some energies on that as well.”
Lister, along with his wife of 39 years, Toni, and his grandson, Bently, continues to work through the many patient clients awaiting his works of art. As he engraves commission after commission, Lister credits his faith for a great deal of his success. He finishes, “Faith is hugely important to me. I’m thankful that I have been blessed with the ability to do something that people want me to do and that I have people waiting for my work. I give God all the credit for that – it’s not because I’m great – it’s because He’s great. Like any other talent, you’re going to have to work to develop it. The harder you work at it, the better you get at it. Things don’t come easy, but if God has given you an ability, you have to work at it. I’ve been given a lot of opportunities, and it amazes me that I’ve talked to the President of the United States, and have met and worked for movie stars, and it’s all because of a little God given ability and some hard work and it takes you places you’d never expect. All I ever wanted to do was create some world class pieces that people would find enjoyable to look at. Everything past that has just been a bonus.”