The History of art on weapons

Posted by Ed Strange on Sep 8th 2023

One question I've gotten over 20 years from some of the more "fudd" like critics of our admittedly niche company is "Why would you put art on a gun?" or "If John Moses Browning wanted a skull on his 1911, he would have put it there! Two World Wars gobbles!"

All jokes aside.. for some people its a valid question. 99.9% of Factory OEM pistols do not come with art on them. The idea of art or decoration on a pistol seems almost foreign to a segment of the shooting industry, with reactions running the gamut of head scratches to outright hostility to the idea. 

So why do we do it? Simply put, mankind has always done it. Every culture and warrior society for the last 50,000+ years has decorated their weapons. The reasons vary from religious to just plain fun, but the tradition has existed longer than man has been growing crops and herding animals, well back into the beginnings of hunter gatherers. 

It is a normal human drive to want to decorate and personalize their chosen weapon. This trait is responsible for some of the biggest technological leaps in our human evolution from cave to Acropolis. Man's knowledge of how to work stone, metals, animal skins and leathers, to wood and bone. Every step was led by an artist pushing the bounds to create new functional yet decorative elements to his weapons or armor. 

The main driving force in human culture has always been some form of conquest. Conquest against nature, the elements, or each other. The tip of the spear in this human evolution has been weapons and armor, and every culture put much of their artistic talents into developing these weapons and armor. Only when that society was stable and defended, well fed and safe did they then turn their artistic drive towards buildings and sculpture. 

The most expensive items a warrior in Athens could own was his Bronze helm, his shield, his Xiphos or Kopis and his Dory (spear). These items were sculpted treasures made by the finest artisans of the day. So treasured, that after the battle of Marathon, Athenian General Miltiades offered his helmet to Zeus in thanks for the victory. This helmet is one of the most treasured artifacts of ancient Greece. He did not offer gold.. or gems.. or virgins. He offered a piece of art forged for battle to his god. 

From feudal Japan to Europe, the pinnacle of artistic expression was weapons and armor. Vast economic resources were spent on the creation of decorated yet functions swords and kit. Todays equivalent in American culture is the guy who spends $10K on kit only to slap velcro meme patches all over it. Different cultures, same attitude. 

Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Wicked Grips on your 1911 pistol is the same as a treasured helmet from the battle of Marathon! What I am saying is, this has always been a thing. And it always will be. When I started Wicked Grips in 2004, it was not to market or sell anything. It was to make 1911 grips for my own collection. No one in the industry was making what I wanted. There was no Samurai elements in 1911 grips. There were no Gothic elements.. Medieval elements.. Viking elements. This did not exist. The best one could find was traditional Scrimshaw, western motifs or company logos. Art on guns outside of traditional engraving was not available. 

Today dozens of companies are bringing art to the 1911 grip market in large part due to the path we forged in an industry that was at first hostile to our ideas, then later started making cheaper quality knock offs as fast as the container ships from China could set sail. Today, the market is flooded with options.. from Etsy to Amazon. One of the reasons Wicked Grips is still here, alive and well and growing steadily is that we stayed true to the roots we put down 20 years ago. Quality art made by artisans who are shooters, who are making functional art that we ourselves would put on our treasured weapons.