Gaetan Beauchamp lives in Northern Quebec, Canada. He has been making custom knives for over twenty years and has become prolific in more than one aspect of this exciting profession. Making a knife is historically referred to as one of the oldest occupations known to exist, so it is fascinating to look back at the impact this tool has had on our lives. It was probably not a big surprise in early society when craftsmen began to embellish the knife or sword. It is possible that this started as an attempt to honor or specialize the tool somewhat. In addition making the knife a little fancier than usual likely showcased the skill involved. Perhaps this made the tool or knife just a little bit more desirable or personal to the buyer or end user?
Beauchamp’s knives while customized, are truly made to be used. More than one customer has shared details with the maker of field dressing both North American & African big game. Function really is the essence of what defines a knife; it has to perform very well in a multitude of functions, likely hunting, fishing, even opening boxes or cutting string. Adding scrimshaw looks great on a handle, making the knife a work of art, however a good working blade is the primary objective! Anything less than this is failure, no matter how pretty the piece looks!
It is not easy to make a living supporting a family as a full-time knifemaker. However for Gaetan the freedom to create and design his products far outweigh any challenges or obstacles he faces. I fondly remember the conversation over twenty years ago when he said “The day job is over, I am going to make knives and do scrimshaw for my work!”
Gaetan brings an explosive mixture of passion and creativity into each blade he grinds and a ‘piece of him’ goes into every project that leaves his shop. That also fuels an internal desire to always do better. Pushing the envelope in that respect is also what originally nudged him into a knifemaking career.
He learned the art of scrimshaw from a friend who lived in the same area, the necessary skills for this art were immediately evident. Knife handles had a huge pull on Gaetan in the beginning as a canvas for the artwork. This presented a huge problem though; “Nobody wanted me to learn on their handles” he said! A major challenge to most, for Beauchamp the solution was simple; “I’ll just have to learn to make knives”.
And that is exactly what happened; he sought out one of the best makers in his area, the renowned Jacques Jobin, who agreed to help and gave him a crash course in knife grinding. Next step was to purchase and build some knifemaking equipment. The journey into grinding steel had begun! In my opinion Gaetan would have been just as successful a hundred years ago as he is today. Collectors and purists are always on the lookout for that maker or artist who has that extra touch, these people always flourish.
I have personally experienced these old fashioned values and character with Gaetan on a personal nature. A few years ago I was having problems with some knives I was working on; he flew out to BC and spent a few days showing me how to solve the issues I was having. No talk of costs or remuneration, just a friend doing what friends do when they are needed! No big deal to him.
Another interesting fact about Beauchamp is that he is somewhat of a pioneer in the art of reverse scrimshaw, however learning this method did not come easy. Most traditional scrimshanders work with traditional white or light backgrounds as their medium on materials like ivory or bone. Reverse scrimshaw however is done on black surfaces such as water buffalo horn which presents a challenge to the artist. As he puts it; “The biggest problem with a black background is that you have to think in reverse and work with the light, whereas with ivory you work with the shadows”. The first black surface he worked on gave him a headache for a week!
For those unfamiliar, scrimshaw is done in the same way as a tattoo. Using a series of tools the artist scratches a series of dots and lines on the polished surface of something like water-buffalo horn. In Gaetan’s method, oil paint is applied then wiped away , the area that has been worked absorbs the oil paint bringing the work to life! Oil paint provides vibrant colors and does not fade with time, is waterproof, thus using the knife in wet weather is not a concern.
Gaetan’s reverse scrimshaw is instantly recognizable and has become his trademark; bringing international recognition for his signature work. Recent awards include: Best Artistic Knife & Best Overall Folder awards at the 2015 Seiki knife show in Japan, Best Artistic Straight Blades award at the 2014 Milano knife show in Italy; he won this with his “Tiger Twin” knife pair. At the 2014 scrimshaw show in Rhodes Island he won the Best Full Color and the Best of Show awards which was very rewarding and humbling as the entire show was just for scrimshaw.
Straight blades and scrimshaw weren’t enough, soon folders were requested. Another challenge - once again he was eager to learn. He quickly perfected some exquisite liner locking folders thereby satisfying the demands of his customers. Mechanisms all walk and talk like expected, the designs flow with good looking lines, and many come with the award winning scrimshaw he has become known for.
Speaking of folding knives; there is a second generation “Beauchamp” knifemaker on the scene, following in his father’s footsteps as far as knifemaking goes. Gaetan’s 35 year old son Richard makes some exquisite jewellery, however helping around the shop since the age of fifteen has sparked a desire to begin his own knifemaking journey . His passion is making folders, and specializes in exotic handles like mammoth ivory ,mammoth molar, dinosaur bone, malachite & other semi-precious gemstone. The jewellery skills suggest to me that inlay will most likely become his signature work one day. A dream come true, Richard & “Dad” will share a table this year at the 2016 Blade show in Atlanta, and the SCI Las Vegas show.
The pictures tell the rest of the story .My choice for handles are ones featuring timber wolves, another specialty that has become a signature of the artist. Gaetan portrays the animals with an eerie sense of realism, the wolves eyes follow you around the room giving one a sense that the wolf is ready to leap off the handle! A favourite piece of artwork that comes out of his shop actually has no cutting edge whatsoever. Lovingly referred to as his “master-piece”, this creation consists of a large section of water-buffalo horn with a wooden top and bottom. The entire front is usually scrimmed with a complete wildlife scene possibly showing caribou being stalked by a family of timber wolves, another favorite of collectors that have been made in this way are portraits of famous Native American Chief’s such as the great Nez Perze Warrior; Chief Joseph. These are spectacular to say the least, and can take a full week to complete the scrimshaw!
Handle material choices and steel types are endless. Gaetan prefers ATS34 in stainless steel, Mike Norris stainless Damascus is chosen for special projects, water-buffalo horn, woolly mammoth ivory, black & ivory micarta are preferred as a canvas for scrimshaw. Mammoth tooth in a variety of colors is popular too.
If you are one of those people who like to meet the maker and look at the knives in person you are really in luck with Gaetan Beauchamp. To call him a frequent flyer is definitely an understatement, here are some of the worldwide shows he will attend in 2016; SCI Show in Las Vegas, SCI Show in Dallas, Thiers Knife Show in France, SICAC Knife Show in Paris, Seiki Knife Show in Japan, The Blade Show in Atlanta.
Beretta USA has been a customer for ten years buying and selling Beauchamp knives in their New York & Atlanta galleries. The Orvis fishing company has regularly ordered limited edition fishing knives with scrimshaw featuring grouse, trout, mallard & magenta ducks, and quail. AG Russell also likes to regularly have some of his knives in their catalog for immediate delivery, right now the final two animals of the big five African limited edition series are being completed.
For others interested in his work Gaetan invites you to stop by his table if possible; meeting this quiet spoken gentleman is an enjoyable experience. Likely there will be no sales pressure or discussion about how good his knives work. Meet one of his customers at the show and the response may be different though; they might just have a lot to say!
For more information you can contact Gaetan at;