After a long and exciting trip to the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, I finished my week in Los Angeles. In LA, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Autry National Center to meet with Jeffrey Richardson, Curator of Western History, Popular Culture and Firearms, and to tour the Independent Studio Service Prop House (ISS).
The Autry currently houses two main firearms collections: Colt Industries and the Gamble. As we prepare for a complete reinstallation of our museum, we thought it would be a good opportunity to meet with other firearms curators to see how they are contextualizing guns in American History.
The Colt Industries Collection is very much a standard firearms exhibition—highlighting a large quantity of firearms in an artistic fashion, while trying to extract interesting stories amidst traditional display. Their Gamble Gallery, which opened in 2013, however takes a different approach to interpreting firearms; it focuses on the “why.” While many of our visitors may think it simplistic to ask why firearms are important to American history, others who don’t have experience with firearms may not see it so clearly. This Gallery focused on the context of the story, layering different levels of information. It began with a general label about topics, such as the “The Frontier.” Then it had a second label referencing different kinds of firearms that were important. Finally, a third label identifies the firearm in the case and its unique specifications and story. They coupled each case with a recorded oral history referencing the subject matter.
The final stop for the Cody Firearms Museum was ISS Props in Sunland, California. Any Sons of Anarchy fans may recognize the exterior of the building, which is used as the front of the hospital featured in the series. ISS Props provides firearms for 70 – 75 percent of all movies and television shows that involve firearms, from a classic like Indiana Jones to the more recent Chris Kyle film, American Sniper. The collection within this prop house is overwhelming, with more than 15,000 firearms in house. It’s their job to take a director’s vision and make it a reality. In addition to functioning firearms, they also make molds that are carried by extras in films. The molds can also be modified to be used in stunt scenes so that no actors are harmed. The tour of the facility was absolutely amazing and we are currently working on getting a loan from the facility to add to our current Hollywood Guns Display!
Due to security purposes and privacy contracts for their work, I am unable to post pictures from ISS.
To hear more about the process of making guns for Hollywood a reality, come to the Cody Culture Club talk: Rubber Guns or Real Revolvers on Thursday, February 20 at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.