The organization defines it mission as a collaborative effort of its members dedicated to preserving the tradition of the contemporary longrifle, related accoutrements and art forms created after the mid-twentieth century.

The CLA membership includes more than 2000 national and international members, from all walks of life, that share a common interest in studing and preserving the American longrifle, related accoutrements  and other art forms that embraced the American longrifle culture.

The organization was founded in 1996. A group of 47 founding members joined the CLA in 1997, a Board of Directors was formed that year and the CLA held its first annual show and meeting was held in July of that year at the Radisson Airport Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. Today, the CLA has more than 2,000 members and holds its annual meeting and 350 table show at the Lexpo Convention Center in Lexington, KY in August of each year.

History of the Contemporary Longrifle Association

In 1980, Robert Weil published his book “Contemporary Longrifle Makers”. This was the first comprehensive and authoritative work on the subject. This book sparked the interest of many collectors. One of the many purchasers of this book was Gordon Barlow of Swoope, Virginia.  Through the years, he and several of his collector/builder friends (Earl Lanning, Jud Brennan, Wallace Gusler, Robert Weil, Mark Thomas, Gary Brumfield, Mel Hankla, Ed Louer, Tom Ames and Edmund Davidson, to name a few) discussed the need for a contemporary group to recognize the fine craftsmanship of contemporary muzzleloading firearms and accoutrements made today and the promotion of this period in our country’s history; thus keeping the frontier tradition alive.

In 1996, while serving on the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Rifle Association (KRA), Barlow and others on the KRA Board of Directors received a letter from Mel Hankla which included a paper titled “Contemporary Kentucky’s – Do They Have A Place In The KRA”? In that letter, Mel respectfully asked the KRA Board of Directors to sponsor a contemporary longrifle display at the annual meeting in 1996. The KRA Board of Directors were warm to the concept of recognizing the contemporary makers (many of whom were KRA members), however decided that allowing contemporary items as a small ratio to antique Kentucky rifles to be displayed on a table was sufficient.

Tom Ames (KRA Board of Director member) spoke about his involvement in the contemporary longrifle builders’ movement and about how the interest in the contemporary longrifle had increased. Seeds were planted. Then in the summer of 1996, after talking with Mel Hankla at the KRA in June, Gordon Barlow promulgated the idea of the Contemporary Longrifle Association (CLA), making the vision of a small group of people a reality.  Friendship and the common interest in the longrifle provided the enthusiasm to create an organization dedicated exclusively to the promotion of the contemporary longrifle, related accoutrements and the artists that create them.

From late 1996 through early 1997, Gordon Barlow, Margie Barlow, Rachel Nolen and Kim Hebb worked together to develop a 501c7 non-profit organization, a membership base, and plans for the first Contemporary Longrifle Association annual meeting and show to be held in 1997. Gary Birch assisted the CLA in finding a location near Cincinnati. An awards program was developed whereby the CLA would recognize individuals that contributed to the heritage of the contemporary longrifle. The Pioneer Award, the Distinguished Service Award and the Education Award would become standing awards to be presented each year. In addition, five special display awards would be presented each year for outstanding displays at the annual show.

On July 31, August 1 and 2 1997, the first annual CLA meeting and show was held at the Radisson Airport Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This show was a huge success and membership doubled in the course of a few months.  This show was a sell out and all attendees raved about the overall quality of the show; especially the quality of the workmanship displayed, and the instant camaraderie during the show.  The vision continued as the group developers supporte a Governance Committee comprised of volunteer members that became the Board of Directors and Officers. Wallace Gusler became the CLA’s first chairperson, Gordon Barlow was named Executive Director and Rachel Nolen, Administrative Director.

At the 1998 annual meeting and show held at the Radisson Airport Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Association By-laws were adopted by the membership.  The first Board of Directors and Officers were elected with Gordon Barlow serving as honorary President and co-chairman of the annual meeting and show.

The 1999 and 2000 annual meetings and shows were moved to the Drawbridge Estate in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky because the CLA had outgrown the Radisson.  The show grew from 75 tables in 1997 to over 100 tables in 1999 and 2000.

In 2001, following the vision of Paul Jones, the annual meeting and show was moved to the Lexington Convention Center in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. The show size increased steadily to 120 tables. The 2001 was the association’s fifth annual meeting and show and was held in the convention hall on the lower level. That year marked the founding of the Endowment Committee co-chaired by Rhonda and Edmund Davidson. The Endowment Committee helped underwrite the cost of the show and the show advertising with the first silent auction. Artist and members gave generously and members and guests bid hardily and the Endowment Committee exceeded their goal.

In 2002, the Contemporary Longrifle Association followed the 2001 meeting format as both the table holder participation and the attendance continued to increase under the direction of show committee co-chairpersons Lally and Frank House. While at the show, Lally and Frank House, Rachel Nolen and Gordon Barlow visited the Grand Ballroom on the main level with the hotel facility which was now under construction. In the following months Rachel Nolen and Lally House negotiated a self perpetuating five year contract for the luxurious Grand Ballroom and the accompanying pre-function foyer. The live auction created a fun event and was another success as bidders responded to the call for bids by Joe Mills, the auctioneer.

In 2003, the Contemporary Longrifle Association held its seventh annual meeting in the Grand Ballroom. Members and guests loved the ambiance of the new location. Those that missed the show soon learned that the Grand Ballroom in Lexington, KY was the place to be the third weekend in August each year. In 2002, Ken Scott had defined a vision for a live auction. He and six of his fellow artist created the “Seven Hides Project”. From seven cow hides, these hunting bag makers created seven unique hunting bags. Then at the 2003 annual meeting, Joe Mills, auctioneer, struck a note with the show attendees. He took the live auction to another level as only Joe could do. Excitement and bidding was fierce. Everyone enjoyed the live action of the CLA.

In 2004, the show size in Lexington, KY grew by twenty percent and was a sell out. That year the CLA Board of Directors voted to organize the Contemporary Longrifle Foundation (CLF) with David Wright as the first chairperson. The CLA Board of Directors funded the CLF by co-sponsoring with the Honorable Company of Horners a live auction of engraved powder horns created by CLA / Honorable Company of Horners artists. The horn project was the vision of Roland Cadle. The CLF would seek 501c3 status in 2005 with a purpose of raising funds to support the CLA. In 2004, the CLA completed a semi- permanent artisan exhibit in the new visitors center for Martin’s Station at Wilderness Road State Park, Ewing, VA

In 2005, the CLA show in the Grand Ballroom was expanded to maximum table and booth capacity.  The feature of the show was the Fess Parker display. Joe Musso and Walter O’Connor teamed up to display memorabilia used by Fess Parker in the filming of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett movies. The CLA commissioned Mark Thomas to create an engraved presentation powder horn which was presented to Fess Parker honoring the 50th anniversary of the Boone and Crockett movies. The live auction featured a rifle by Allen Martin, hunting bag by Craig Fisher and powder horn by Art DeCamp. Again, Joe Mills, auctioneer, pushed the live auction over the top and Rhonda and Edmund Davidson did the same with the silent auction. The competition among the display awards was exciting to see and the show saw the largest number of displays ever recorded in the CLA’s nine-year history register for awards.

In 2006, the CLA will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the organization. This year’s show in Lexington, KY, will prove to be the best ever as the CLA recognizes a “Decade of Excellence.”

The CLA continued to grow it membership and sponsor the annual show in Lexington, KY. By 2016, the membership exceeded 2,000 members.

In 2016, the CLA held it 20th anniversary show at Lexington Convention Center in Lexington, KY in conjunction with its annual show. The show and the anniversary attendance set records with more than 330 tables sold.

The CLA Board of Directors established a “Founders Award” for the event and honored Gordon Barlow as the first recipient with a copy of the James Madison Chair made by Ray Pine of Mt Crawford, VA. Mark Thomas engraved a silver plaque for the award.

Gordon Barlow recognized Rachel Ramsbottom and Margie Barlow with silver crosses made by Mark Thomas of Dayton, VA. for their 20 years of service to the CLA and for their role in founding the CLA.

In 2017, the CLA celebrated its 20th anniversary at the annual show in Lexington, KY. An evening event provide a social hour with wonderful food with an open bar. Our guest of honor was Earl Lanning, a chaerter member and the father of the contemporary longrifle revival in the last half of the 20th century. Earl donated a wonderful presentation longrifle that was made by Hacker Martin of Jonesville, TN for a 20th anniversary raffle. Paul Gosnell of Eagleville, PA was the winner of the Hacker Martin longrifle.

The CLA continues to grow and is already preparing for our 25th anniversary in 2021.

Rachel Nolen

Mt Sidney, VA

The CLA membership invites you to become a member of group that is enthusasitic and knowledgable about the American longrifle culture and is always willing to share that knowledge that is likely to become a passion for you.