Hand engraving in metals is almost a lost art; used on Roman armor as far back as the 5th century B.C., the art form began flourishing in Greece by the 4th century B.C., and by the late 14th century A.D. master engravers were in high demand for the decoration of weapons and armor throughout the “civilized” world. It was also virtually the only means of reproducing images for printing, and until relatively modern times the skill was essential to everything from fine art prints to currency.
But today printing plates are produced by etching and various photographic processes, and beyond a very few “old school” master engravers the majority of decorative engraving is done by lasers or machines.
Born in Southern California, Tay Herrera (aka Tarrera) fits that description of an Old School Master.
Tarrera was introduced to master firearms engraver Angelo Bee -former engraver at Fabrique National D’ Armes Deguerre in Liege, Belgium- at the age of 17. In the early 1990’s he studied under Frank Hendricks and Ron Smith, two of America’s most prominent American engravers, and developed a working relationship with Weatherby Rifles.
Finding the traditional artwork on guns to be too restrictive, he began experimenting on motorcycles starting with a friend’s Moto Guzzi and his own Suzuki Intruder. This wasn’t a new technique in the custom bike world either, but it had always been limited in scope. He showed a custom engraved exhaust pipe around at a show in New Orleans in 2003, but the response was lukewarm and he determined to develop a new style.
“I realized I had to come up with something the industry had never seen before. I went back to a European form that I had used on some of my high end gun engraving work, a 3-D style, and that brought the response I was looking for. In particular from Jesse James.”
Word spread through the custom builder community, and a break came through the Biker Build-off TV show when he did a massive amount of work on a bike for Trevelen of SuperCo. The bike won the competition and open the doors.
He mostly works in billet aluminum, although he claims it was difficult to work in soft metals as he had been used to harder metal in gun engraving. Terrera has taken the art to a new level by using traditional engraving tools -hammer, chisel and hand gravers- to produce three dimensional, high relief pieces of art. He does not use modern mills or rotary tools.
At a recent Easyriders Bike Show a Danny Bogart Harley with Tay’s engraving took First Place in Stock Custom Class, and two other customs including Trevelen’s “El Peligroso” took a First Place and Best of Show. ”
Terrera’s work can be seen on choppers by West Coast Choppers, Paul Cox (Indian Larry legacy), Super Co. Customs, Johnny Chop, Custom Design Studio among others.