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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 44, Page One of Two


Debra Meister and The Cornish Litany
Don Worden At Folk Art Fairs
Rose Sié: Her Son Remembers

Sophia Albu Ionita: Posthumous Exhibition
Marshall Stokes: Two New Exhibitions
PLUNA: Water Exhibition
Etsuko Ichikawa: Two Miami Exhibitions
Dino Muradian: Working in Still Life

Debra Meister and The Cornish Litany

Cornish Litany Box
By an unknown artist

Pyrography on round wood box similar to the postcard design (below)

Image courtesy of Debra Meister

The Polperro Proverbs Cottage Industry

Polperro is a small fishing village in Cornwall, U.K., famous for its picturesque setting and beautiful views. A visit to this Cornish village would not be complete without a stop at the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing. There is one more claim to fame for Polperro, however, that is not included in that intriguing name for a museum.

The 1926 book Polperro Proverbs and Others etc by Frederick Thomas Nettleinghame contains a description of the cottage industry that developed in Polperro, where folk art workers used pokerwork to depict the famous Cornish Litany and many other appealing proverbs that became very popular. Linked here is an exhibit in the E-Museum with a four-page excerpt from that history, provided by the Cornish Studies Library.

Following are some opening words from that book and its pokerwork story:

"We have no highbrow intent in placing this little book before the public. We have been impelled to produce it by a section of the public that have taken our pokerwork products to heart and hugged them fondly, and in satisfying their little whim there is at least the possibility that we shall ... have accomplished a mission of good at a small cost.

To those so far unacquainted with our work we would explain that, in 1923 we started off with the Cornish Litany and a half dozen other texts by burning them on wood..."

Cornish Litany Postcard
By an unknown artist

Image courtesy of Debra Meister

Ghoulies and Ghosties and Things Halloween

Debra Meister happily admits to being a "fanatical collector" her whole life. "It's something I can't stop," she says, "it's just a part of me."

What started everything is her collection of "Halloween stuff," and the Cornish Litany postcard collection eventually grew out of that. Her pyrography 'collection' was just by chance. Because historically the pyrography works from Polperro represent the beginning of that cottage industry, and the postcards followed, Debra was motivated to find an example from the first chapter in that history.

Although the representative at the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing had no knowledge of the pokerwork cottage industry described in the 1926 book by Nettleinghame, Debra believes her antique round box displayed above with the Cornish Litany inscribed is an example of it.

Cornish Litany Mug
By an unknown artist

Image courtesy of Debra Meister

"I especially love postcards," Debra says, because "they're small and don't take up too much room... While browsing eBay, I saw my first Cornish litany card—by Stanley T. Chapman. It reminded me of Aubrey Beardsley's work and I love his style... So I won one on ebay and noticed they were numbered... I wanted to get the whole set so I set up an automatic search and started to see all sorts of versions.

I love collecting versions of something. I'm a graphic artist and I love seeing the different ways an idea is illustrated. Most of what I have is postcards, but I have some pieces of pottery, too, and some books with illustrations. I've also seen pictures of many different things on the internet. One of the most common is needlework kits."

A Litany...Cornish and Otherwise
by Debra Meister

Book cover and Cornish Litany excerpt from the book

Image courtesy of Debra Meister

Studying and Collecting the Cornish Litany

When you preview Debra Meister's newly published book A Litany...Cornish and Otherwise at the link here, you will soon come to realize how her fascination with this folk art has allowed her—and us—a window into another culture. Its peculiar folklore is nonetheless universal in its appeal because it expresses the fear of the unknown in all of us. Debra's collection of postcards is representative of the second phase of the Polperro folk art cottage industry that began with pokerwork.

Bug Box
by an unknown artist,
early 20th Century

Pyrography on a monogrammed wood box

Image courtesy of Debra Meister

Creepies and Crawlies, Too

We should not be surprised to learn that Debra Meister not only loves collecting all the weird creatures that populate the Cornish Litany folk art, but art works of bugs, as well. Her only example in pyrography is the antique box pictured above.

Don Worden At Folk Art Fairs

Don and Carolyn Worden
Posing with Their Granddaughter Danessa, All in Period Costumes

At an Earlier Folk Art Fair

Booth exhibition of pyrography on wood panels

Image courtesy of Don and Carolyn Worden

Don and Carolyn Worden at the Waterford Fair

On a beautiful Saturday morning in October, I drove about thirty miles from Falls Church to Waterford in Virginia to meet with Don Worden, an artist who has been working in pyrography for 32 years, and his wife Carolyn, who has been accompanying him to shows and managing their business.

The Waterford Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit has been a major annual event for 65 years and involves the entire town. The exhibits along with food vendors are grouped in various parts in and around town, and various musical bands are, too, adding a lot of merriment to the whole thing.

I found Don and Carolyn in the Schooley Mill Barn Artist Area thanks to a beautiful program provided for the event, which is very well organized.

Don Worden Demonstrating
While Carolyn Is Tending Their Booth

A similar booth and demonstration set up at another show

Image courtesy of Don and Carolyn Worden

Showing Cross Country

Don and Carolyn work without electricity and dress in full costume usually in three shows each year. Otherwise, Don works with his usual solid tip tool at other venues while Carolyn runs their booth. This is a wonderful team effort for this most charming and interesting couple. They are such a handsome couple and look so welcoming in their crisp starched period clothes. At the Waterford event, the passersby were noticeably engaged in talking with them while shopping at their booth and watching Don's demo.

Don Worden Doing a Demonstration for the
People Passing By at the Waterford Fair

Exhibition of pyrography on wood panels outside of the booth

Image by Carolyn Worden

The Demonstration Area

Don demonstrates in a special little area set up outside of their booth, and people gather constantly in small groups to watch and learn and ask questions while he works away (as seen above, where he is working on his signature piece of the Mabry Mill). He uses the types of makeshift tools that folk artists on their own might have used in times past.

Some time ago, Don found reference in a library book that described folk artists doing woodburning using potatoes and corncobs to attach as handles on whatever implement or wire they might have on hand that could do the task. This is what folk art is all about—the innate desire in artistic people, who "make do" or craft with whatever is available for them to express their artistry.

In that same spirit, Don works away demonstrating at the fair with his adapted odd tools (shown above—notice some potato and corncob handles), some laid out on a tree stump while others in use are heating in a charcoal stove (also shown above), which is a small tin bucket of sorts. As the charcoal burns on top of a grate at the bottom of the bucket, he uses one implement while another waiting for use is set on top of the square base and left heating in the opening at the bottom of the bucket; the ashes drop down through the grate into the base below, which is a square container that also has an opening, this one for removing the ashes.

Display of Don Worden's Works at a Show in 2007

Image courtesy of the artist

The Caruthers House
by Don Worden, 2008

Pyrography on wood panel, 26 in. by 18 in.

Image courtesy of the artist

Renderings of Family Residences

Don also works with an electric solid tip tool when back in his studio at home in Dalton, Ohio, as well as at other contemporary venues. The work above, a rendering of the Caruthers house, is a new commissioned work in what has become a specialty for him. He has a photo album displaying many private as well as historic residences, as well as some historic buildings, rendered in pyrography.

See a display of Don Worden's works, including his signature pyrograph of Virginia's Mabry Mill, on his own web site at Woodburnings by Don. Also awaiting your visit is the Don Worden Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

Rose Sié: Her Son Remembers

Breton Dancers
by Rose Sié

Pyrography and color on wood panel, 73 by 55 cm.

Image courtesy of Michel Béziat

Michel Béziat Remembers His Mother

At the time Rose Sié passed away in 1977 at the age of 51, her son Michel was a young man in his early thirties. He and his grandmother together gave away as remembrances to family members and friends many of the little round boxes, napkin rings, jewelry boxes, sewing boxes, and other objects that his mother had so lovingly done in pyrography.

During the period when she was suffering from her fatal illness, she was no longer able to do any pyrography because the smoke was particularly irritating to her delicate lungs. However, it was many years before, when her son Michel was still a little boy, that Rose had taken up pyrography—in a sanatorium.

Basque Couple
by Rose Sié

Pyrography and color on wood panel, 49 by 35 cm.

Image courtesy of Michel Béziat

A Sanatorium in the French Basque Country

Far from home, Rose Sié, longing to return to her family, was bravely trying to regain her health. She discovered pyrography—then a popular pastime in France—and that became part of her therapy during that long year away.

Pyrography was traditionally offered in various institutions as a pastime as well as for the purpose of physical, art, and occupational therapy. The techniques Rose learned were typical of that time and could be found in many books and magazines, particularly a magazine entitled L'Artisan Pratique (The Practical Artisan), which taught many handicrafts and decorative art techniques and offered many interesting patterns with scenes of the type used by Rose for hobbyists to work from. Immensely popular from the turn of the century, pyrography in various manifestations was featured in every issue, and elaborate patterns were developed for its use. Another feature of L'Artisan Pratique magazine was that the French text was translated in the back of each issue into Spanish and English.

Pyrography Tool Used by Rose Sié in the 1950's

L'Artisan Pratique Pyrography Tool of Paris

Image courtesy of Michel Béziat

A Rare Pyrography Tool

It was when Michel Béziat was selling an oval pyrography plaque of a Venetian gondolier that he became known to the E-Museum. The plaque was not one made by his mother and had been in storage. That pretty piece will be the subject of another segment in Pyrograffiti in the near future, when we look at some of the techniques developed in conjunction with pyrography in the early part of the 20th Century.

Michel was planning at the time of that sale to sell also his mother's old tool (shown above in two views). He later changed his mind when he contemplated how special it was and decided not to part with it after all.

The French L'Artisan Pratique pyrography tool is remarkable and thought to be quite rare. Michel's tool, which his mother used so long ago, is in pristine condition and has extra points as shown in the first view of it above. In the second view with the close-up, you can see the temperature control dial—with a range quaintly designated from Less Hot to More Hot (–CHAUD à +CHAUD). A particularly remarkable feature is the availability of three voltages: 110, 165, and 220. This is the first time the E-Museum's research department has come across such a tool.

You are invited to visit the Rose Sié Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

Closing Notes

It has been an honor and a pleasure to show here the two pyrographic works by Rose Sié. They are truly a treasure in considering not only the poignant history of their provenance, but also the vignettes of life in Brittany and the Basque Country in France that they so beautifully depict. Although probably done as student work from a pattern, Rose's line work was exquisite, her colors artistically and thoughtfully chosen and applied. Both works have been lovingly preserved and treasured by her son, who still looks at them and feels the bittersweet pain of a little boy left for more than a year without his mother—at long last reunited with her and no doubt looking wide-eyed with wonderment at the array of works she brought back home with her so many years ago.

Duck in Flight
by Don Worden

Click here to go to page two

© 2008, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.