Tucked away inside Szobrasz Studio in Taylorsville, a self-taught artist — and now something of a YouTube star — coaxes works of art from natural materials. Using wood, horn, fossil ivories, bone and stone, the first-generation Hungarian-American Ferenc Gregor has been sculpting since the mid-1980s.
Gregor says, to him, these materials are not merely inanimate objects — they are from the sacred earth, living, growing and changing on a level far beyond our comprehension.
“I’ve been doing this over 35 years as an artist and carver,” Gregor said, recalling one of his first projects. “I remember finding an old Dremel tool — an old hand grinder — in my parents’ basement. I used it to carve my father a knife handle [of a hawk’s head] from bone.”
Gregor said that when he works he becomes immersed, and at some point he had to decide whether to continue art as a hobby or to make it his job. Oddly, the first big-paying project he took on was not a carving. Instead, he made the illustrations for a book called “Goal Keeping” by Lincoln Phillips, a goalie for the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team.
“The illustrations were pencil drawings of stick people. He wanted me to do it that way to keep it simplified.” Gregor said, laughing. “Nowadays people see my work and say, ‘I can’t even draw a stick person.’ I laugh and say, let me tell you a story about stick people!”
Gregor said he transitioned to carving stone a few years later.
“I wanted to work in a challenging medium. I was inspired by the masters like Michelangelo,” he said. “One of the larger pieces that I did at the time was a large alabaster statue of Saint Sebastian.”
Word of Gregor’s talent spread. In 1996, he was commissioned to carve the black granite National Cryptological Memorial at Fort Meade, “They Served in Silence,” for the U.S. Department of Defense. Not long after, he was granted a recommendation by the Archdiocese of Baltimore for some restoration work he did at Villa Julie College, now Stevenson University.
Gregor said he loves to work with natural materials, especially bone. He’s been known to dry out bones from Sunday dinner to turn them into art.
“Being married to Ferenc is interesting,” his wife Amy said. “You never know just what you will find in the house, including skulls on the kitchen drainboard!”
Kerry Stagmer of Baltimore Knife & Sword in Marriottsville remembers the first time he met Gregor, nearly 30 years ago. They were both set up inside the Oella Mill, a gallery for vendors and artists in Howard County.
“At the time, he was doing knife handles and mostly carving ivory eagle heads, Stagmer said. “That was intriguing to me.”
Stagmer and Gregor became friends, working on many projects together, since.
“He’s carved a lot of knife handles for me. I give him an idea with the size of knife I want, or if there is a customer asking for a specific thing, and then he applies his talent and artwork,” Stagmer said. “He always has the same vision, and I can totally trust him.”
In addition, the pair film together, having completed over 150 episodes for the Man at Arms series on YouTube, which also runs on the El Ray television network.
“We are just approaching 860 million views on our YouTube channel and we have eight million subscribers now,” Stagmer said. “This series was put together for a California network, but we took it over after about 30 episodes. I run it for the company that now owns it. We’re also working on several other shows for the future."
Gregor is a cast member on the Man at Arms show, a carver creating odd and intricate items on the screen.
“People write in [to the show] and say, can you make this weapon from this game, or this anime or movie, and then we figure out how to make it into a real weapon,” Gregor said. “The entire cast works on this. We all have very diverse skillsets.”
Gregor’s work can be described as unique. He has carved everything from memorials to skulls to two miniature toilet earrings in ivory for a plumber. He also has a line of chocolate skulls: chili chocolates called Mayan hotheads, and Kavie Morte — dark espresso chocolates. He sells these at horror conventions through Scares that Care, a charity that helps children, families and those dealing with medical emergencies.
Susan Schaefer, a client of Gregor’s, said it was a while after her husband had died that she decided she wanted a unique memorial for his gravesite.
“I was looking more for a sculpture than a marker,” she said. “I called some different artists and eventually I was pointed to Ferenc. My daughter had drawn a picture when she was in high school that my husband loved and kept sitting on his desk. It was an apple tree, but I call it a tree of life. I took the picture to Ferenc. He suggested what materials to use. Like a magician, he tried to grant my every wish.”
Schaefer said the experience was wonderful.
“I brought the picture and we sat down at his home to discuss it. He carved the tree. Then, over his name he put the scales of justice. My husband was an attorney,” she said. “There’s also a symbol of a child reading over my name, because I am a teacher.”
Schaefer said they were able to bring personal, meaningful experiences to life in the memorial, because of Gregor.
“My daughter had posted something [on Facebook] when he died. It was very poetic, and we put that on the stone. The tree is carved out of green granite. There is heart and soul in this, and that is him. That is Ferenc. He is fantastic. Now, I am not just a client, I’m a friend.
When asked about his favorite piece by Gregor, Stagmer had to think.
“There are so many,” he said, but then he narrowed it down. “We did a copy of Green Destiny from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” - that sword, and he carved the jade to go on the sword, completely from scratch, starting with a block of jade. In terrible conditions he produced an exceptional carving.”
Stagmer said there was another one, too.
“There’s also a sword, a much larger piece he did that was more sculpture than sword. It’s 6 foot long and weighs 150 to 200 pounds, made primarily from forged steel. Because it’s supposed to be a living creature, he applied a more organic look to it, a fantasy piece,” Stagmer said in reference to a recreation of the Soul Edge from the “Soul Caliber” games. “That transition to a living creature was perfect for him. He really sees through a project. Even the giant eyes that look like a whale seem completely real. That piece is in San Francisco, The parent company that owns the game now has it in their lobby.”
Both Stagmer and Schaefer spoke of the heart Gregor puts into his work.
“For me, his work is very personal,” Schaefer said. “Not just for him, for the client. It is not cold and calculating. There is so much more than that. There is feeling. He puts himself into his work and tries to put as much of you into it as he can. He is very genuine.”
Gregor laughs off the praise, focusing instead on the cup of coffee he said he needs to keep going.
“The best thing that’s happened lately is that I signed up for a Deathwish Coffee subscription just before this [pandemic] hit,” he said. “Now I don’t have to go out for coffee. This is the strongest coffee on earth. Anyone knows me knows, if I don’t have a cup of coffee in my hand, I’ll whine like a child lost in a mall.”
Working with hammer and chisel, power tools and engravers, and “anything I need to, to get the job done,” Gregor says he will continue to create art that he sometimes calls nontraditional or unorthodox. His wife and three children, and his clients too, seem to like that a lot.