Woodcarver Ezine
Back Issues
Carvers' Companion Gateway


by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 41, Page One of Two


Page One
Blair Brown: Nova Scotia and Beyond

Page Two
Peter Drewett: New Directions
Julia Surba: From Siberia to Berlin
Cheryl Dow's Woodburning Celebration Drawing Near

Blair Brown: Nova Scotia and Beyond

Jamaican Market Lady

by Blair Brown

Pyrography on wood panel

Owned by Dr. Susan Brown

Image courtesy of the artist

His World in Pyrography

The dramatic portrait above is a window into the world of Canadian pyrographic artist Blair Brown who, since 1994, has been retired from his service as an Industrial Arts teacher with the Canadian Government. During his colorful career, his postings included three years in Southern and East Africa and four years in Kingston, Jamaica, W.I.

60 Years in Pyrography

Born in Selma, Nova Scotia, Canada on the 24th of May, 1936, Blair remembers that he was introduced to woodburning at about 11 or 12 years of age when he saw an example of it done by a family friend. He still remembers how impressed he was when his father was presented that beautiful woodburning of a deer (taken from a Field and Stream magazine).

Blair's first efforts were small plaques like the little plaque shown here, which amazingly a thoughtful member of his family saved for him. Already evident was his skill in doing fine line work, not to mention his precocious choice of design.

Young entrepreneur that he was, he later started burning his plaques from cartoon pictures of hunters and fishermen and pyroengraving a verse underneath, such as The Fisherman's Prayer. These he used to sell at a card store in Windsor, Nova Scotia, for $1.00, and "sold quite a few" in this way.

Early Work

by Blair Brown, late 1940's

Pyrography with watercolor
on Pine plaque,
5.5 in. by 7.5 in.

Image courtesy of the artist

Potted Pot
by Blair Brown

Pyrography on framed wood panel

Image courtesy of the artist

Capturing His World for Posterity

Since returning to his native province of Nova Scotia where he resides in Barrington Passage, Blair has been focusing a lot on capturing in photography the familiar surroundings of his life there, many of which are disappearing quickly. His own photographs are his main source of inspiration for his pyrography work.

"When I retired," Blair says, "I started woodburning seriously—taking my own pictures. A Maritimer's love of the sea heavily influenced my subjects, and I have done dozens of the fishing boats 'Cape Islanders' for fishermen. Lobster pots are among my favourite themes as they have nearly all disappeared in lieu of the newer wire traps. No romance or character in plastic covered wire, now is there?"

Boat at Wharf with Lobster Pots
by Blair Brown

Pyrography on wooden panel, approximately 18 in. by 12 in.

Image courtesy of the artist

"The old wharves are fast disappearing too," he continues, "going the way of the fish plants and a way of life. Even they have a certain character and history. Thankfully I have taken many pictures over the years—enough to see my life through!"

The Lemon Squeezer
by Blair Brown

Pyrography on a Maple plaque, 12 in. wide by 6 in. high

Image courtesy of the artist

Finding a Niche—Antique Gun Shows

For the last couple of years, Blair has found a niche for selling his work at several provincial gun shows held annually. He has done a couple of dozen of these plaques of antique pistols like the 1932 Smith & Wesson called the "Lemon Squeezer" shown here above and in a detail below.

The Lemon Squeezer, Detail
by Blair Brown

Pyrography on a Maple plaque, 12 in. wide by 6 in. high

Image courtesy of the artist

Technical Notes

"My interest in the art form never waned," Blair says, "and I just kept burning and learning as I went, such things as types and characteristics of woods, reaction of heat to metal, care of tips, finishes (which I'm still working on!)."

Tools. Blair works with the Dremel Hot Tool. However, he notes that he does 99.9 percent of his work with only one tip—the wedge tip, which he modifies.

Woods. He works most on Poplar plywood and even Poplar split logs, as well as Birch plywood. He also uses Maple and Birch plaques.

Finishes. Blair's thoughts on finishes are like those, he believes, of most pyro artists—that they are "the bane of [his] years." At present, he has been working with furniture oil called Teak & Tung, which he says is quite thin and easily penetrates the wood. He usually uses only a couple of applications. He notes that it does have a fairly strong "aroma" but says that "it gradually diminishes with a little time."

Display at Pictou

Photograph of the artist's display table at a recent show

Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada

Image courtesy of the artist

Exhibiting at Shows

Upon returning from the show in Pictou, Blair sent the picture above of his booth display and wrote the following comments:

"Just returned from the Pictou gun show and thought you might be interested in how the pyrography was received. Everything was quite positive, but the medium is still very unknown to nearly everyone. I believe that if I hadn't been demonstrating, I would never make people understand how it was done.

There was a great amount of interest shown and a lot of people stopped by and watched and chatted. But—my!—you do get tired of the reception to pyrography. I even had a guy stop and ask how the word 'pyrography' was pronounced! The small plaques were thought to have been stamped, and, for this reason not much interest was shown in those."
During his pyrography career, Blair has exhibited and sold work in countries in East Africa, especially in Tanzania, the United States, and in Canada in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

One Thing Leads to Another

An organizer of an event for Women in the Outdoors approached Blair at the show he did in Pictou to ask if he would do a piece as a donation for his group, which will meet in Nova Scotia on June 16th this year. They are sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation in the United States. Blair sees this opportunity, he says, as "more exposure for the medium."

'41 Chevy
by Blair Brown

Pyrography on wood panel

Image courtesy of the artist

A Family of Maritimers

Just as Blair feels his maritimer's love of the sea influences much of the subject matter of both his photographic and pyrographic works, he also fully believes there is an inborn wanderlust in maritimers (borne out in stories of his parents and ancestors) that accounts for the decision that he and his wife Shirley made back in 1965 to take advantage of the Canadian Government's offer to send them abroad through their External Aid program, as it was known then, so Blair could teach overseas. "We left Quebec," Blair said, "with three children ages 2, 4 and 6, and never gave it a second thought. We wanted to see the world and back in the 60's it was very possible to do just that, safely, for families like us. I had just built our first home in Lennoxville, Quebec, and then to up and sell out; quit my teaching job; and just take off—it sometimes seems a bit unreal."

As a teacher, Blair and his family were able to live and travel in various parts of the world. He says that he had always continued to burn "by fits and starts over the years," but "got into it seriously in Africa," where he found great subject matter and had more time to pursue his pyrography, as well.

'41 Chevy, detail
by Blair Brown

Pyrography on wood panel

Image courtesy of the artist

He was even selling his work there in Africa, while striving to perfect his technique. They lived for a year in Lesotho (a small landlocked country surrounded by the country of South Africa); traveled up to Greece afterwards while awaiting word of his next posting; then visited Botswana (which was then known as Bechuanaland) for a lengthy period; and lived for two years in Moshi, Tanzania. They also took a few vacations on the east coast to Mombassa (now Mombasa in Kenya, it is a port city on the Indian Ocean that is a center of the coastal tourism industry) and Malindi (120 kilometers northeast of Mombasa and also on the Indian Ocean at the mouth of the Galana River).

He did some great portraits and a lot of game animals during those times, and notes that the game animals sold very well. He had just sold a burning of animals to a customer in Arusha (northern Tanzania's safari capital) and gotten a commission for four more when a misfortune occurred: the porcelain element he was using with his old Unger tool back then dropped and broke. He had no way to easily or quickly get a replacement part, and his pyrography came to an abrupt halt.

From Africa to the Caribbean. After the Tanzania posting, the family moved back to Canada where Blair worked briefly in Quebec before getting a new posting that was to last four years on the beautiful West Indies island of Jamaica in the Caribbean, where he found the inspiration for that wonderful opening portrait of the Jamaican market lady.

Link to the Blair Brown Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art to see additional examples of Blair's pyrography, including works from his time in Africa.

Wooden Buoys
by Blair Brown, 2007

Pyrography on Baltic Birch panel, 10 in. by 8 in.

Image courtesy of the artist

A'Demo Piece'

For his past several shows, Blair used the above panel for the purpose of demonstrating at his booth. The pyrography was done after one of his own photographic compositions of some wooden buoys that "were just lying as you see them."

Shirley and Blair
On a vacation in Newfoundland
on the occasion of their 50th Wedding Anniversary


Blair has been working on setting up a home studio and gallery—a place where he can work and also hang his works and where he hopes he will soon be included in a studio tour event when he can open it to the public for a day. Following are a couple of closing quotes from Blair Brown, whose pyrography has indeed been a window into his fascinating life and world:

"Over the years I had to develop my photography skills, as I work from my own photographs. I have had to 'suffer' the slings and arrows of critics to this art form. I have been refused acceptance to juried panels as my work, to them, seemed too much like a photograph! There have been times when I questioned my sanity in continuing with pyrography, and I truly appreciate the opportunity to relate to other fellow pyrogists!"

"On my desk is a quote attributed to Helen Keller: 'Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.' Guess that says it all!"

by Blair Brown
on split Poplar log

Click here to go to page two

2007, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.