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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 38, Page Three of Three


Page One
Selahattin Olceroglu Recreates Orientalist Works of the Ottoman Empire

James "Jim" Ward--From Woodcarving to Pyrography
Cheryl Dow--A Pair of "How To" DVD Videos

Page Three
Susan Millis: Pursuing a Unique Degree

Susan Millis: Pursuing a Unique Degree

Susan Millis At Work Examining and Documenting
An 1898 Pyrography Panel by Charles H. F. Turner

Notice, also, the fine old folk art pyroengraved cabinet
on the wall behind Susan

Douglas Schneible Collection, Vermont

Digital image by Sharon H. Garvey

Pyrography Research Trip to the United States

English pyrographic artist and conservator Susan Millis was introduced to WOM readers in Pyrograffiti 30 both as an artist and as a conservator who had done her undergraduate dissertation on pyrography conservation.

Susan has recently been traveling in the United States working on research for her doctorate in the conservation and restoration of pyrographic works. Her first paper is due in the fall and because of the research she had already pursued on a panel owned by David Plunton of The Three Witches of Macbeth thought to be by Ball Hughes, and because a second panel has been offered to her for research thanks to another private owner of a Ball Hughes panel, Susan decided to do this first paper towards her thesis on a study of Ball Hughes' pyrographic works.

The goal of this trip was specifically to find, photograph, examine, and document as many Ball Hughes pyrographic panels as possible. Any other works that were also available, such as the beautiful Turner panel in the image above, were a bonus. Particularly of interest for historical reasons were works by J. Wm. Fosdick, who admired Ball Hughes, wrote about him, owned at least one of his pieces, and started his own career in pyrographic art because of him.

The whirlwind tour was one of great difficulty because of the heat wave over most of the eastern United States; however, visits to the many places on the itinerary were greatly facilitated from point to point thanks to the kindness and generosity of many people along the way who were interested in Susan's project.

Susan Millis and Collections Manager Cindy Mackey
at Work Examining and Documenting
the Ball Hughes Sancho Panza panel
at the Bostonian Society and Museum

Notice the required white gloves when touching the object

Digital image by Sharon H. Garvey

Thanks to all those fine people, including my sister Sharon Garvey--who drove down from Maine to pick me up at the airport in Boston, then pick Susan up at the train station there--Susan, Sharon, and I were able to see the Ball Hughes Sancho Panza panel at the Bostonian Society and Museum, and from there travel to Vermont so we could meet with Douglas Schneible and see two Ball Hughes panels--Gen. McClellan and The Trumpeter--along with a large number of antique pieces in his extraordinary collection of rare pieces. (See some of them listed among the works in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, which also links to Douglas' web site.)

In one afternoon and into the evening, Douglas first gave us the grand tour on two floors, and then Susan went about documenting not only the two Ball Hughes panels but as many others as she could. Meanwhile, Sharon photographed whatever she could on Susan's behalf while following the strict scientific procedure that Susan required for her purposes.

It was an intense day, followed by dinner at a fine Italian restaurant in Montpelier, where we sat by a large open window with a sheer drop to the river below and pretty much talked about only one thing as we had all day--pyrography and how we can exhibit it in the future. We returned to put in some more hours in the evening and then reluctantly left to rest for an early morning call. Sharon left in the wee hours to return to Maine.

Douglas Schneible
at the restaurant in Vermont, July 12, 2006

Digital image by Sharon H. Garvey

The next morning, after driving since six o'clock, Douglas, Susan, and I stopped for a nice visit in New York State with Bill and Rhonda Drucker to see a fine Fosdick panel the size of a door. We are resolved to learn more about this piece, which is signed but which has no title on it. Bill's father from whom he inherited it, had always called it Lady Gainsborough. Before long, farewells again and off to New York City for the rest of that day. On a sidewalk somewhere in Manhattan, Susan and I said our farewells in a rush and expressed our gratitude to Douglas before catching a cab for the Brooklyn Museum.

Next on the agenda was a visit to the Brooklyn Museum of Art and a tour of the Conservation Department there with Toni Owens and colleagues who most graciously showed us all the conservation work that takes place behind the scenes in anticipation of upcoming special exhibits. Because Susan's research is unique, it is not surprising that even with professionals, the pyrography panels are something unheard of. With few exceptions, the whole concept has to be explained at each initial visit or through each correspondence with a new institution. Coincidentally, though, Toni had visited the exemplary Conservation Centre at the National Museums Liverpool where Susan had been working in the U.K.

By that evening, Susan and I were viewing outstanding contemporary works by the late Sophia Albu Ionita (who also did a lot of very large panels) and visiting with Mike Ionita who had met us for the Brooklyn Museum tour and taken us afterwards to view his collection in New Jersey. It was there when Jody Schiffenhaus, also of New Jersey, arrived to present Susan with a Ball Hughes panel of The Monk (one of two known panels of this title by him) to loan her for her research. Susan is looking forward to examining the panel at close range under magnification and comparing it to the one of The Three Witches of Macbeth that she already has there in the U.K.

Afterwards, Mike was our gracious host at a lovely dinner, where we spent the evening earnestly discussing--not surprisingly--pyrography and how we can exhibit it in the future. Mike is in awe of his late wife's creativity--she was such an artist! He and his children are hoping to create a museum to exhibit her works and honor Sophia. Before departing that evening, we returned to Mike's to see Sophia's pieces one last time. I loved seeing those intimate pieces in person. They're so full of symbols and icons, and so personal. Several of Sophia's former students have written to tell me how much she meant to them. The next morning we were catching a bus back into New York City and another from Penn Station to Washington, D. C., where some more pyrographic research awaited.

Four important works were in the Washington, D. C. area. One afternoon was a joint meeting at the Smithsonian with curator George Gurney of the American Art Museum and curator Ellen Miles of the National Portrait Gallery. Both museums share the old Patent Building, and are newly opened in July after being extensively renovated for a period of years.

We were joined at that appointment by Gail Houle, the owner of the earliest dated Ball Hughes panel Babylonian Lions of 1856. Knowing we were meeting with the curator of the National Portrait Gallery, Gail also brought with her a very nice 19th Century portrait in oil painting that she owns. Both pieces were met with great interest, along with Jody's Ball Hughes panel of The Monk that Susan brought. Here was one exception in explaining what these pyrographs were about--there is already an enormous triptych by J. Wm. Fosdick on display in the American Art Museum, and it seems to be getting a lot of attention lately. After going through the museums' library files on both Ball Hughes and J. Wm. Fosdick for a few hours, that triptych was our next stop.

If you ever visit Washington, D. C., don't miss seeing J. Wm. Fosdick's 1896 triptych The Glorification of Joan of Arc! It is breathtaking. And at over nine feet tall and about 13 feet wide, it takes up a whole wall niche designed for it. It is simply amazing. The large ottoman in the center of the room is an ideal vantage point to view the piece in its entirety and from lower down, which plays into the illusion that Joan is being taken up into heaven. To tell the truth, from pictures of this piece that I had seen, I had the impression that it was colored. It is not. It is relief carved and pyroengraved--in places to a depth of half an inch, and Joan of Arc's halo and the central sun at her feet (where the angels are) and the rays emanating from the sun behind St. Joan are all gilded.

Don Quixote in His Study
by Robert Ball Hughes, 1863

Pyrography on wood panel, unframed

Digital image by Tom Throckmorton

Another day was a relaxing visit with Sharon Throckmorton in Virginia, who has been lovingly maintaining, documenting, and, in some cases, researching the many heirlooms--especially paintings done by various family members--that have come down through both sides of the family. When she saw an article on Ball Hughes in the Antiques Roadshow Insider magazine, she asked her son Tom to research their Ball Hughes panel Don Quixote on line. Tom found the E-Museum's Antique Hall quite independently of the magazine article where it was referenced. Some time after we corresponded, he took a series of digital images of their Ball Hughes panel. During our visit that day, Susan took some additional ones for her research purposes. While examining the piece closely under magnification--it's such a clever piece with lots of amusing details--she discovered an interesting detail in the lower left where there is an open book--some little figures charging on horseback similar to some sketches done by the artist on the back of Douglas Schneible's Gen. McClellan work. His is dated 1862--one year before this one.

And finally, one evening Kelly Brown graciously stopped by with her Ball Hughes panel The Monk. Susan, Kelly, and I welcomed the opportunity to see the two panels together--Kelly's and the other one, which Susan brought with her from New Jersey. Unfortunately, although both are inscribed and signed, only one is dated (Jody's, 1866). Susan had originally estimated Kelly's to be circa 1865. Susan is looking forward to comparing the results of her planned in-depth study of the second panel of The Monk with the documentation she has on all the panels in addition to a physical comparison with David Plunton's Three Witches of Macbeth panel.

Time ran out too quickly. A lot was accomplished! But there are still a few sites that need to be visited. We'll leave those for a follow-up segment in another Pyrograffiti.

Are There More Ball Hughes Pyrography Panels?

Meanwhile, Susan is still hoping to locate any additional panels of Ball Hughes' pyrography that are out there. If you know of any, she invites you to participate in her project to document all of them. Please contact her at smilli01@bcuc.ac.uk.

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The Author

Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez learned her pyrography techniques in Guatemala in 1975-1977 under Carmela Flores. Her sister, Artist Sharon H. Garvey, later joined her there to collaborate on a pyrography project designed to promote this art form in the United States by means of a didactic book and a pyrography tool made by Navarro of Mexico.

Thanks to the internet, this is the tenth year of articles on pyrography for the Woodcarver Online Magazine (WOM), started January 1997, and the ninth year of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, which opened its virtual doors January 1998. In March of that year, the International Association of Pyrographic Artists (IAPA) was formed and members began meeting on line. Linked from the E-Museum's Café Flambé, which hosts the IAPA meetings, is the Yahoo Groups uniting_pyrographers mailing list, member list, and chat forum set up for IAPA members by IAPA Cofounder Ken "Mixo" Sydenham of Warragul, Victoria, Australia.

2006, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.