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University Offers World’s Only Bachelor’s Degree with Emphasis in Engraving

by Jan Biles

The Topeka Capital-Journal

J.R. GARVEY/SPECIAL TO THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Engraving projects involve fine detail work, allowing students to create one-of-a-kind pieces.


J.R. GARVEY/SPECIAL TO THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL

A student works on an engraving project at Emporia State University.


JAN BILES/THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL

James Ehlers, associate professor of art at Emporia State University, demonstrates the new equipment in the engraving studio at the university. Ehlers looks through a microscope as he adds fine details to an engraving, while his work is projected on a large TV screen so students can better see how the engraving is accomplished.

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Emporia State University senior L Blaksley uses a standard, 90-degree V-point graver to create a fine-line drawing of a frog on a metal plate. He enjoys the intense concentration needed to guide the tool and avoid mistakes during the delicate engraving process. "It’s tedious and very unforgiving," he said. "If it looks engravable, I’ll give it a try."

Blaksley, of Huntsville, AL, already had a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis in printmaking. He came to Emporia State, located in Emporia, KS, after learning the university was at the forefront of a renaissance in the engraving arts and was building a classroom with state-of-the-art equipment.

At Emporia State University (ESU), Blaksley is working on a second bachelor’s degree, this time in engraving. After his graduation, he would like to travel to Switzerland to enter a six-year program focusing on money-engraving skills. He is one of six students at Emporia State who are seeking a four-year bachelor of fine arts degree with an emphasis in engraving.

Since its launch in the fall of 2006, eight students have graduated from the program. Students take 75 hours of core art classes, along with 21 hours of art electives and 18 hours of engraving arts classes. "This is the only fine arts degree in engraving in the world," said James Ehlers, associate professor of art and director of the engraving arts program.

Emporia-based Glendo Corp., which designs and manufactures tools for a variety of artistic industries and crafts and provides production and prototype machining, formed a partnership with Emporia State in 2005 to launch the engraving arts program, according to Josh Hamlin, who is sales manager and works with special projects at Glendo. Before that, the university and Glendo worked together on the company’s Grand Masters Program, which brings master engravers to Emporia for weeklong classes.

Hamlin said students also have an opportunity to apply for paid internships in Glendo’s Artisan Alley, a creative studio that is part of the company’s research and development department. The student interns have access to the company’s GRS Tools division and its machine shop, which allows them to create custom pieces for engraving rather than being limited to whatever products are commercially available. "They are able to test the newest tools and meet professional engravers from around the country," Ehlers said.

In early September, Glendo donated more than $100,000 to purchase new equipment for the university’s engraving classroom – the one that attracted Blaksley to the program. Included were pneumatic engraving tools, custom benches, high-powered microscopes and five flat-screen monitors that are linked to a camera attached to the instructor’s microscope. "The roadblock (to the program) was the equipment," Ehlers said, explaining how the new equipment provides the magnification needed to engrave jewelry, knives and guns. "This set-up already is elevating my work and the work of the students."

Jan Biles is a reporter for The Topeka Capital-Journal, Topeka, KS. She can be reached at 785.295.1292 or jan.biles@cjonline.com.
Reprinted with permission from The Topeka Capital-Journal.