Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022

En Garde!


Museum collects fencing treasures

Andy Shaw is unique. He could be a blend of Dr. Henry Walton Jones Jr., Jerry Colonna and a sprightly Jewish book seller in a musty, cramped antiquarian bookstore in Tribeca.

But he’s not Indiana Jones or a wild-eyed entertainer, although his digs in Shreveport are somewhat cramped, if not musty, and they are filled with pieces of history that he has scoured the world to find and acquire. And, while he has been known to don the wild regalia of Mr. Colonna, most days you’ll find him in comfortable clothes surrounded by some amazing history in an understated storefront space on Fairfield Avenue called The Museum of American Fencing.

Stepping through the front portal – door seems too plebian – you are immediately confronted with memorabilia worthy of any museum in America. Here are the trademark accoutrements of the art of fencing, popularized in the early parts of the last century by cinematic stalwarts like Erroll Flynn and Basil Rathbone. Here in Shreveport one can see the tools of the trade of fencers who are the legends of the fencing world, Olympic heroes, common Americans who stepped upon a narrow strip and faced their opponents armed with a blade of steel.

Inside this museum you’ll see the uniforms of past Olympians, many of their awards, their images and more.

Shaw has come to possesses these treasures through years of search and from the reputation he has earned within the fencing community as one of, if not the, foremost historian of the sport. Some he’s tracked down through his tireless research; others have been given to him by people who have come to know and respect him.

When the leadership of United States Fencing asked him to become their new historian, he demurred. “I told them I don’t know enough to be the historian, but if you have no one else, I’ll do the position. And as soon as they gave it to me, people would call me up and ask me questions I couldn’t answer. So, once I realized how little I knew who these famous men were … I had to start reading.”

But creating this museum is about more than knowledge, it’s about getting these unique items collected into one spot. “What I used to do, I would buy old phonebooks, because it was before the Internet got big,” Shaw explained. “There were no websites anywhere for people. I started around 1990. And I’d call people. And they would send me stuff.”

Shaw’s evolution in the world of fencing began in his youth in New York. His fencing coaches were known around the world, and soon, the young Shaw was captivated by their sport. Over the years he traveled the country refereeing tournaments. He met and was met by the glitterati of the fencing world. He ran the largest fencing club in the country in Los Angeles for a while. He consulted with entertainment producers on their fight scenes, even training some of the screen’s biggest stars.

“I trained Russell Crowe before ‘The Gladiator.’ I taught Bob Dylan to fence in his home. I taught Kiefer Sutherland for ‘The Three Musketeers.’ I taught Jimmy Buffett to fence. I taught Beau Bridges.

Chris O’Donnell I taught for about eight weeks for ‘The Three Musketeers’.”

Walking through the museum is a process of meandering through rooms stacked floor to ceiling with the precious ephemerae of U.S. Fencing history with Shaw’s tour guide commentary as background.

“I’ve made a collection of masks going back to 1850. I’ve got a saber [fencing] mask up there that’s filled with horsehair.

“This guy worked with President Harding and was an Olympian. Here’s a trophy with his name engraved on it. It was 1923, it was just before the Paris Olympics. This I had to fight people for on the Internet.

“I have these original weapons. These were handmade in Italy.

“He was the artistic director for ‘Ben Hur.’ He won the Academy Awards. He was nominated for 13 Academy Awards. He won three, and he was an Olympian from California. I just happened to spot this stuff in a yard sale in L.A. for 10 bucks.

“The show ‘Jeopardy’ called me years ago. They wanted to check a question.

“I have the original constitution of U.S. Fencing. It was discarded. They didn’t even know what it was. Of course, it’s all handwritten.

“I have uniforms of people, all Olympians. I’ve got just so much stuff.

“They gave me an award for lifetime service to fencing a few years ago.

“These are Olympians who gave me their warmups from the Olympics. That’s how much they trust me and believe in what I’m doing.”

There is way too much inside these walls to catalog in one article. You must see it for yourself. Whether you are curious about fencing, sports, the Olympics or just want to spend some time with a fast-talking New Yorker with an amazing, unique and eclectic collection, drop by 1415 Fairfield Ave. in Shreveport or call (318) 227-7575.


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