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Pyrography and Kids!

by Kathleen Menendez

Exploring Pyrography With Children

A Glimpse at the Past

Cardboard cover (detail) of a woodburning set given to an American child as a Christmas gift back in the 1940's.

Private collection

Woodburning has, despite lack of documentation, for as long as anyone can remember been associated with shop classes, workshops, scout handicrafts, and school art courses as well as extracurricular art classes for children. There is strong evidence of its continued practice (albeit still scarce documentation) today with both children and teenagers in countries around the world.

Graham Hall from Scouts in Wales, United Kingdom, reports:

The Welsh Scout Jamboree was held last year and is only held every four years. ...the pyrography base...(is one of)...sixty different bases (of activities) running...(for the jamboree).

Pyrography is quite commonly done by Scouts over here, whether they are just sitting around a fire, or taking part in a formal instruction session. I have always encouraged Scouts to use pyrography on camp to produce mementos of the camp and for trophies and suchlike.


Kids Living in Dakar, Senegal

Below the equator and on the other side of the world from the RGS teenage girls in Singapore and the Jarea Art Studio kinderart pyrography classes in Canada is a French Canadian Catholic school--St. Joan of Arc (Ste. Jeanne d'Arc), located in Dakar, a port city on the extreme west coast of Africa in the country of Senegal. The school serves several hundred students (representing about 40 nationalities) from kindergarten through high school.

The workshop classes of the 8- and 10-year-olds decided to work on class projects in art as a fundraiser for the classes of handicapped children in their school. With the guidance of their instructors, they chose to try working on a material that was altogether new to them--calabash gourds. They wanted to do some experimenting in pyroengraving and painting on this 'new' material, and they also wanted to try decorating some gourds in the way usually seen in that part of the world, where the gourd is an essential part of everyday life and its decoration a traditional art form. Following are the projects the children accomplished with the help (and constant supervision) of their instructors, in pyroengraving on gourds:


Stick with a doll's head at one end seems to be the original criterion for defining this type of doll, called marotte in English (from the French by the same name). Apparently, the French and English have diverged, because an added criterion by modern definition (at least in the English) is that it should be able to be twirled or agitated.

This particular doll, according to doll artist and expert Jean Lotz, whose articles on dolls appear in this issue and last of the WWWoodc@rvers E-Zine, in English would be more accurately termed a spoon doll, since it is made from a half-gourd sold as a spoon. Spoon dolls fall into a category called folk or frozen dolls.

The gourd bowl of the spoon bears a pyroengraved face.

The children considered painting the face but finally decided they liked the natural gourd with pyroengraving alone better. Her hair is done with wool attached by means of holes made in the gourd for that purpose. The handle of the spoon became the doll's body. It has sticks in a crossbar tied to it (with the perpendicular sticks then becoming the arms). Some white cloth bound at the 'wrist' makes the spoon doll's hands. The clothes were sewn from a Senegalese cotton print material.

When several such spoon dolls came to life, the children began to think about doing a puppet show for their end-of-school recital.

The pyroengraved calabash decorated by the children

For inspiration, the teacher brought two calabash bowls (of the sort used for serving food and preparing couscous) to class--one the work of an artisan from the neighboring country of Mali, the other decorated by someone right there in the city of Dakar.

The children studied the designs and made comparisons. They noted the first gourd, more rustic in style, was done in the traditional way with a knife-like tool heated in the fire, while the second was realized in a more elaborate technique and with an electric pyroengraver (possible in the regions with electricity). The children considered doing the pyroengraving with the traditional sharp tools heated over embers maintained by means of a bellows, but for lack of the charcoal fire and with safety as a consideration, they opted for an electric tool instead.

Decorative sketches were done by several students. The final choice of graphic elements (as seen in their calabash above) was determined not only for aesthetic value, but also level of difficulty, since even on a rougher calabash, the pyroengraving tool tended to slide. The design they chose was concentric, so they started working from the middle outwards covering the surface.

They did three more projects that were painted: another calabash bowl, a gourd mask, and a gourd candleholder with its candle decorated using spots of melted crayons.

These were very ambitious projects for these youngsters to take on. They must have felt very proud of themselves when they saw what they were able to accomplish--and their parents must have been proud of them, too. To the St. Joan of Arc eight- and ten-year-olds and their art teachers--Congratulations on a job well done!

Next Issue: "Pyrography With Relief Carving
by Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson"

A look at the whimsy and satire of Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson

Last Issue: "Pyrography On Wood and More
With Al Chapman,"

A Look at Various Applications of Pyrography


The Front Desk Pyro Forum!

It's the latest project created by the champion of Pyro's Worldwide--the indefatigable Mixo Sydenham--to give pyrographers another tool for professional networking and camaraderie.

When interviewed about the new Pyro Forum, Mixo says, "the Front Desk Forum should stimulate mainly positive feedback, with hopefully positive outcomes and responses." Have some ideas you'd like to share with your fellow pyros? Have some questions you'd like 'out there' for others to comment and respond to? Check out the Front Desk Pyro Forum and have your say!

The Victorian Touring Collection

Another of Mixo Sydenham's projects, this one is in the Real World. Mixo has organized a collection of Australian work (and some from other places, including some by yours truly) to tour in various places in Victoria throughout most of this year.

With this localized pyrographic tour, Mixo has laid the foundation for the international one that we have been discussing at the internet meetings of the International Association of Pyrographic Artists. Learn more about The Victorian Touring Collection and bring your comments, kudos for Mixo, and ideas for a future international exhibit to his (OUR!) Front Desk Pyro Forum.

The International Association of
Pyrographic Artists

It's up and running since March. We've already had internet meetings on some Saturday afternoons (Sunday mornings if you're in Asia or Australia). If you'd like to join in, just check out the Cafe Flambe listing on the Directory page of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art. The next scheduled meeting is for Saturday, 11 July 1998, at 4:00 pm EDT.

Visit the World's First

E-Museum of Pyrographic Art

--a virtual edifice and monument to the art of pyrography present and past. Although still very new, the e-museum already displays a substantial collection--See work by Dino Muradian, Mixo Sydenham, Sophia Albu Ionita, Al Chapman, and others, plus antiques, books, and tools.

New!!! The Children's Hall is now open.

Remember, if you are a pyrographer or a collector, all you need is a good photograph or scan of your artwork to become a part of this unique project. Come share your favorite masterpieces (with just a photo or scan), and network with the rest of the community of pyrographic artists and collectors.

Please write me an e-note and tell me about your work in pyrography. Your comments and your participation are most welcome.

--Kathleen Menendez

Of Interest:

Visit Jantje's, Andrea's, and Geoff's Jarea Art Studio website to learn more about this talented trio and their work.

Visit Andrea's own website for lesson ideas to develop for your own art classes for children.

Visit the section on the
Art Program at the Raffles Girls' School website to see more examples of the girls' art work, learn more about this interesting school, its art curriculum, and its new communication links to other schools through the internet.

The story about the school in Dakar is from an illustrated French text that is a delightful description of calabash gourds, their use and pyroengraved decoration in west Africa, and the charming account of the children's work on their fundraising project. This particular section was entitled "Les calebasses" and is part of the school website of College Ste. Marcelline.

Jantje Mulder has her own special column that she writes for the Mining Co. website on Folk Art. Visit this site to see Jantje's pyrography autobiography!

Learn more about Andrea Mulder-Slater's work and teaching in a Mining Co. website that did an interview with her on Teaching Children Art.

Visit the Children's Hall in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art for more examples of
Jarea Art Studio's kids' folk art poker work and
Raffles Girls' School teenagers' pointillism pyrography.

Visit the Jarea Art Studio exhibit in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art to see more examples of Jantje's folk art poker work.

Always on the cutting edge of every pyro-issue, pyrographer Mixo Sydenham of Australia some time ago put up some fun things especially for kids on his Pyro Cafe Down Under website, including a free kids pyro design. Visit his Bent Boomerang kids page with your own youngsters or with your kids class.

Chip carver Jeff Fleisher talks about his enjoyable father-son experiences working with his two sons on chip carving and pyrography projects.

More good news from Mixo! As a special gift to beginning pyrographers, he has taken excerpts from his booklet for beginners, and put the new Pyro Starters Page on pages 27 and 28 of his website.

The Author

Pyrographer Kathleen M. Garvey Menendez learned her pyrography techniques in Guatemala. Her sister, Artist Sharon H. Garvey later joined her there to form their company Pyrographics, and collaborate on a pyrography project designed to promote this art form in the United States with the help of the Navarro Pyrocarver--the pyrographic tool Kathleen represents.

This is her second year writing articles for the WWWoodc@rvers E-Zine, and thanks to meeting so many talented pyro-artists through the internet, this is the first year of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, dedicated to pyrographers and their unique art form in all its myriad manifestations. This spring the Cafe Flambe of the E-Museum hosted the very first meeting of the International Association of Pyrographic Artists, which has since met on various occasions.

©1998 Kathleen M. Garvey Menendez

Back to Part I of Pyrography and Kids:

Jarea Art Studio, Canada--folk art poker work by Jantje Mulder, and her work and her daughter Andrea's teaching pyrography to children.

Back to Part II of Pyrography and Kids:

Raffles Girls' School, Singapore--outstanding work by Christine Tan's teenage art students.

Back to E-Zine Table of Contents