The Whip Artistry Studio: A tribute to the beginning of cinema and the Wild West

I wrote yesterday about Richard Best and his Black Lightning Wild West Show.  But the location where we shot the video displayed in that article deserves its own mention, The Whip Artistry Studio of Gery Deer in Jamestown, Ohio is a one of the kind temple dedicated to the art and preservation of the bullwhip.  Gery is currently a freelance television producer and writer in Dayton, but his heart centers on the preservation of Western Arts—particularly the bullwhip.  Like me, he has worked with whips most of his life, and traveled the world providing shows.  Gery and his wife Barb have been on major television shows and have been personally endorsed by “A” list celebrities and stuntmen.  Gery’s Whip Artistry Studio is a museum of old westerns, autographs from Halle Berry, Antonio Banderas and many others, and a tribute to the golden age of cinema.  Gery’s whip holstering systems were used in a film done by The Rock called The Rundown and it was because of that film that Gery specially designed my Cliffhanger quick drawl holster which I wear every day.  My bullwhip holster is the only one of its kind and was made by Gery specifically for my use.

It is sometimes impossible when you know such people to revere them properly for what they are.  I have known Gery for a long time, and we have so many things in common that I don’t often consider how unusual his life and his studio are.  But in a world obsessed with preserving every species of animal that is on the brink of extinction, Gery is fighting to keep alive something that many more progressive modernists hope to force into distant memory, the American cowboy.

As unlikely as it is, Gery’s Jamestown, Ohio studio is all that stands between extinction and advancement of the kind of America that was so beloved by viewers of old Republic Saturday morning matinees, and wonderful silent films like Don Q, Son of Zorro.  As many Hollywood producers these days bulk at such things, it was George Lucas who adopted these very Republic serials and made Star Wars, and Indiana Jones.  Students at Gery’s studios want to learn to crack a whip like Indiana Jones, because those films inspired them.

Gery and I share a great reverence for Douglas Fairbanks, particularly the old film Son of Zorro.  Of course we’ve always loved Indiana Jones, but that character never went to the whip handlers of old, like Douglas Fairbanks, Lash LaRue, and all the Republic Serials—especially another favorite of mine, Zorro’s Fighting Legion.  When I wrote my book The Symposium of Justice I dedicated it to that old Republic serial including naming the restaurant Fletcher Finnegan worked at, “Republics.”

My current love of Star Wars is because Lucas shot those films in the way of those old serials—and that just isn’t done by any other film studio.  And all that harkens back to Douglas Fairbanks and his whip tricks from Don Q, Son of Zorro.  Gery Deer’s whip studio in Jamestown, Ohio is really the last gasp of air holding on to that past attempting to preserve it.  Gery and I both came into our love of bullwhips the same way but he choose to actually move into show business.  At age 46 I have lived my life much the way Don Diego did in Zorro’s Fighting Legion, only I haven’t pretended to be foppish to save my family and reputation from villains.  Gery has taken a non-violent approach to the art, where I’m all about the violence.  Even when I was writing The Symposium of Justice, I didn’t feel comfortable writing about the bullwhip heavy action scenes if I had not done all the stunts in real life to confirm their viability.  And with stories like that, I have never felt comfortable writing about characters like Fletcher Finnegan (Cliffhanger) from behind an author’s stories.  I always felt a responsibility to actually be those characters in real life, otherwise the task was hypocritical.  In that regard, I am a lot more political than Gery.  Gery has made his living often with a whip, as I have not.  But I have used mine to confirm the stunts of Don Q, so that I could write about them knowing what was possible and what wasn’t and what really went on in the life of Zorro in a quest to fight evil.

But in a confusing world where every other influence is competing for attention, that old past ushered in by Douglas Fairbanks is most alive in Jamestown, Ohio, and I love it every time I get to visit.  It is like a farmer returning to his land after plowing a field and smelling the fresh soil, or an artist during a late night epiphany—Gery Deer’s The Whip Artistry Studio is grounding to the roots of cinema, justice, and the genuine pursuit of goodness triumphing over evil.   I never get tired of visiting, and I suspect that I never will.

Rich Hoffman