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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 7, Page One of Two

Variety is the Spice of Pyrography, Too

Manu Pagola's Images of the Basque Country

Manu Pagola from the Basque Country in Spain, is an autodidactic who has been dedicated to pyrography (pirograbado in Spanish) for more than fifteen years. The reason he is self-taught, Manu explains, is because he knows of no one where he is who does pyrography other than himself. Manu has recently acquired his own website Pirograbados de Manu Pagola where more examples of his work can be viewed.

Manu lives in the resort city of San Sebastián, which is the capital of the province of Guipúzcoa in the Basque Country. San Sebastián is situated on the Atlantic coast in the north of Spain only 25 kilometers from the border with France. The Basque Country (País Vasco) is not actually a country but was once a province of Spain. It was declared an autonomous region of Spain in 1990. The Basque people and their Basque language are of unknown origins (one theory in recent years is that they might be of Celtic origin). Unlike Gallego and Catalán, which are dialects of Spain related to Spanish, the Basque language is entirely different. Basques, of course, know Spanish as well, since Castillian Spanish is the official language of their country of Spain. There are more Basques just over the border in France. That province in France where the French Basques live is likewise called Basque Country (Pays Vasque).

La Hilandera (The Spinner)
by Manu Pagola

Pyrograph on wood panel

Manu has shown his work in various expositions in San Sebastián and in nearby cities. He is very interested in interpreting the human face within its social context as well as in sports. He has also created a series, which is the one partially shown here, of Basque scenes of an ethnographic character. Manu's high contrast portraits and landscapes, many from old photographs like the ones shown here, tell with haunting beauty of a harsh existence in times past. Manu's goal with this collection is to gather a small visual history of the life of the Basques on the sea as well as on the land.

In The Spinner (shown above), from an antique photograph in a book, Manu depicts the features of an old Basque woman, spinning thread by hand from sheep's wool. This popular image, Manu explained, can frequently be found in the entryways of farmhouses in that region.

by Manu Pagola

Pyrograph on wood panel

The photographs that are Manu's source of inspiration are of a rural area in his province of Guipúzcoa. One of the coastal towns there is called Ondarroa, which is a town about 80 kilometers from San Sebastián. This pyrograph is also from an antique photograph of that town. It shows the bridge over the river that serves as a seaport for the town, which is located on the banks of the river's mouth.

Caserío (Farmhouse)
by Manu Pagola

Pyrograph on wood panel
>From a photograph in a book of typical Basque scenes

Manu does his pyroengravings from antique photographs of the region in and around San Sebastián, from his own photographs of trips he has taken (especially to Asia), and also from others he has taken of present day landscapes and other topics he finds in his own region. His compelling work entitled Alisha of a Tibetan girl can be found on his website Pirograbados de Manu Pagola . His pyroengraving Desperation of two little girls in India begging can be found there, too, as well as in his salon in the E-Museum Portraits and Paintings Hall

Mirando al Mar (Watching the Sea)
by Manu Pagola

Pyrograph on wood panel

Typically seen in Basque ports is another image, Watching the Sea, from a book of antique Basque photographs. The Basques have always been very tied to the sea, Manu explains, then adds the reminder that the first man to sail around the world was a Basque named Juan Sebastián del Cano.

Manu wrote about his own modern city of San Sebastián, which he says is a gorgeous city on the Atlantic Ocean. "We enjoy three beautiful beaches," Manu says, "of which the prettiest and most important is Seashell Beach (Playa de la Concha)."

Manu also says that Basque gastronomy is quite varied and Basque cuisine is considered one of the finest in Europe--and as far as he's concerned, one of the best in the world.

The climate there is mild, which attracts a lot of tourists who come to enjoy the beaches, to see the green hills and the pretty coastal and inland towns, and also, of course, to enjoy that superb Basque cooking.

About the Basques themselves, Manu says, "We are a very open and hardworking people."


Exes and I
by Benelli

The artist posing with his pyrographic assemblage made up of wood parquet pieces

Pyrographic artist José Eduardo de Almeida Benelli signs his work simply Benelli. He is from the city of Arapongas in Brazil (A little known fact is that Brazil's real name is the United States of Brazil; Benelli is from the State of Paraná.) He was born in Apucarana in that state and during the 1970s when he was studying Medical Science at the Federal University of Paraná, Benelli was living in the city of Curitiba, which is the capital of his state. Curitiba, a city of two million people, is a very important cultural center. According to Benelli, Curitiba is considered a sort of cultural "thermometer" where art events, new films, concerts, and shows, even new commercial products are first released. If they are successful in Curitiba, then they are expected to be a hit Brazilwide.

At the same time, during those years in medical school, Benelli said that across the undergraduate student population from all the different science and humanities schools on campus there was an intense atmosphere of social-political-cultural unrest in which the students "boiled" with a desire for the end of oppression and repression under a dictatorial military regime.

Immersed in that spirit, Benelli recounts how in 1974 he studied drawing under some very famous artists in Paraná--Joao Ozorio Brzezinski, Fernando Calderari, Maria Estela Sandrini (Teca), and Ligia Borba, as well as Argentinean sculptor Juan de La Bourdette.

Pine Trees of Apucarana
by Benelli

Pyrography and acrylic color on wood panel

Art is a big part of Benelli's life; in fact, he has been an artist most of his life, drawing and writing poetry since he was a child. He makes his living, however, principally as a physician specializing in both Allergies and Dermatology. That leaves only the weekends for him to dedicate himself to his art work; nevertheless, over the years he has managed to show his work in various galleries. His earlier works (starting in the 1970s) were rendered in either India ink on paper or oils on canvas; however, since he discovered pyrography in 1992, this has been his focus and an important component of a new definition in his style.

Falta de Ar (Lack of Air)
by Benelli

Pyrograph and color on wood panel

Benelli divides his body of artistic work into three different phases: In the seventies, his work was figurative; in the eighties, concrete-abstract. The nineties brought Benelli's third phase--his neo-expressionist phase--when he started to work through pyrography on wood in rich textures combined with intense acrylic colors.

In 1992, Benelli tried his first experiments with pyrography on little parquet wood blocks. He followed the knots and grain of the wood in order to build figures or kinds of mosaics (see first picture, Exes and I).

Since then, he has gradually been increasing the size of the surface to be pyroengraved while always searching for new textures deriving from different shapes and types of wood.

Playing Legs
by Benelli

Pyrograph and acrylic color on wood panel

Following is Benelli's explanation of the progression he has sought in his art work. It's well worth a careful read to get a much better understanding of what his compelling neo-expressionist work is all about. He writes:

I've also been trying to get better visual and technical results and explore some aspects of the unconscious by symbolically metamorphosing structures to obtain buildings that more and more float in smooth spaces of colors. They are delimited by a cubist geometrism expressed by certain angulations intended to simultaneously produce a sense of lightness, depth, and solidity.

I've been transposing the reinforced concrete of the buildings to the wood by means of shapes and textures continuously being modified according to each new phase and acquiring self identity in the true sense of being a new object derived from each new rediscovered universe.

Green and White People Tie
by Benelli

Pyrography on wood

Besides the examples shown here, more of Benelli's work is on display in the E-Museum Portraits and Paintings Hall. There you can see other striking works of bold volumes and vibrant, complex textures that seem to play with your eyes like an Escher trompe l'oeil like his work Lack of Air. You will see how he has taken his work Playing Legs and done a series called "Dancing Couples," showing progressions, abstractions, and variations of the theme, including one with a deliberate medical reference entitled medically and metaphorically (Dancing Couples) In Electroencephalograph Rhythm. There you will also see a larger image of his work Exes and another landscape of Arapongas.

"Art is an important part of my daily routine just as my medical career is. I am intimate with both. My need for artistic expression is extremely strong; it is a component of my essence as a human being."

More on Sid Huttner's Lucile Project

An earlier article in the E-Zine (linked here) introduced Sid Huttner's Lucile Project--his quest to collect a surviving example of each of the many published versions of the book Lucile.

Since then, a few more pyroengraved versions of Lucile books have been discovered by Sid and added to both his website and the E-Museum salon linked here. Two of them are from the same publication; however, a comparison suggests surprisingly that rather than being factory stamped pyroengravings as the other editions appear to be, these may well have been hand done. Click on the Lucile link and see if you agree.

Mystery Corner: The Sleeping Knitting Girl

"The Sleeping Knitting Girl"
by Ball Hughes, Boston, 1859

Poker work on wood plaque

A recent addition to the Antique Hall of the E-Museum is this lovely old piece entitled Sleeping Knitting Girl. The mystery that surrounds it is regarding its provenance and biographical information about the artist who signed it--Ball Hughes. Could it be Robert Ball Hughes, a well known sculptor and miniaturist from that period? Also, what about the subject? Could it be the artist's own design, or as one expert, Richard Withers of Wales, suggested, perhaps a pyroengraved copy of a famous (maybe Dutch) painting from a still earlier period? What do you think? Read more and see a larger version in the E-Museum salon, linked here to the title of the piece.

Book Reviews

Woodburning with Cheryl Dow: 14 Patterns for Fun or Profit
Instructional book of mostly wildlife themes in pyrography on wood for the beginner, 40 pages, black and white, $12.00 (+$2. s/h).

This is the first instructional book on pyrography by artist Cheryl Dow of Michigan, USA, although she has already produced tutorial videos. This book instructs the beginning pyrographer on techniques for doing wildlife pyrographs plus two barns and a lighthouse. Cheryl's knowledge of most of her subjects is first hand, since, in her words, for over 30 years, she has been a wildlife advisor and rehabilitator caring for infant and injured animals, such as raptors, ducks, geese, songbirds, swans, raccoons, possums, cougars, squirrels, and bears (only two bears, she adds).

Cheryl's book provides general woodburning instructions plus specific instructions and patterns for fourteen projects: raccoon carrying cub, wolf, squirrel, owl, barn scene, lighthouse, merganzer, pintail, chickadee, butterfly, fawn, moose, wolf head, and including the fox and barn shown in color on the cover. The projects include not only the subject but the landscape background as well.

Besides her books and videos, Cheryl Dow is also a seminar instructor and writes a regular feature column for the very popular Chip Chats, the magazine of the National Wood Carvers. You can order books at: Cheryl Dow, PO Box 867, Union Lake, MI 48387-0867, tel. 248-363-6454.

This book is being added to the E-Museum Bookstore Exhibit.

Woodburning with Cheryl Dow II

Wildlife themes and a barn, pyrography techniques for beginners,
40 pages, black and white, $12.00 (+$2. s/h).

This is the second instructional book on pyrography by artist and teacher Cheryl Dow of Michigan, USA, with more of the popular themes that made her first one popular. As mentioned in the prevous book review, Cheryl's knowledge of most of her subjects is first hand, since, for over 30 years, she has been a wildlife advisor and rehabilitator caring for infant and injured animals.

Cheryl's book provides general woodburning instructions plus specific instructions and patterns for ten new projects: a loon and her chick, mouse with acorns and oak leaves, raccoons, lynx, chipmunk, frog, barn, deer, wolf, and including the heron, shown on the color cover. Cheryl's patterns were also designed to be suitable for relief carving.

This book is being added to the E-Museum Bookstore Exhibit.

Cheryl says that she is already working on a third book with patterns of a little more complex nature in addition to perspective, shading, textures, etc.

Wood Burning: 20 Great-Looking Projects to Decorate in a Weekend
by Betty Auth, Katherine Duncan (Editor)

Paperback, 80 pages, color throughout (November 1999), List Price: $14.95
Lark Books; ISBN: 1579901352; 8.5 in. by 11 in. approx.

Betty Auth's book of decorative art pyrography is an excellent collection of easy projects suitable for a beginner. At the same time, the designs are varied and interesting enough to be appealing to pyrographers at any level. Besides the pyrography itself, she introduces color to some of the projects.

In addition to the 20 big and little projects--including decoration of a bowl with a fish design (shown on the cover), a picture frame (also shown on the cover), a tray, bird house, drapery rod, ladderback chair, jewelry, holiday ornaments, box (with an antique design), folding screen, planter, even gourds, and more--it also has a gallery of antique pieces, instructions on how to get started, patterns, and more.

The title is misleading since the book also includes gourd projects. I also think that the pyrography work itself would be better served if she had used a better tool than the one shown in the book.

This book is being added to the E-Museum Bookstore Exhibit.

Click Here for Page Two: Pyrography with Gemstone Inlay, Pyrography as Performing Art

© 2000 Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.