WWWoodcarver Ezine
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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 7, Page Two of Two

Special: Gem Inlay, Then and Now

Bejeweled Lady
Artist Unknown, circa 1910

Pyroengraving on wood plaque, with inlaid glass gemstones

Also shown, lower right, punch set for opening a hole in the wood to inlay the gemstones.

Gem Inlay with Early Twentieth Century Pyrography

Another great find for Flemish Art collector Peni Powell is this unusual piece along with the tool used to prepare the wood for inlaying the gemstones. Here was an additional and novel offering from the Flemish Art Co. for pyrography enthusiasts in the early years of the last century. Knowing how enamoured of things exotic people in that time period were, it must have been quite popular.

One of the last techniques in the course taught under Carmela Flores on decorative art pyrography at Artehogar (art academy) in Guatemala is one called Incrustación de Piedras (Inlaying Gemstones). This antique piece with the inlaid jewels shown above is one more indication of how many parallels there are between the coursework there and the pyrography of Victorian times. Perhaps it also has to do with how being in Artehogar could transport you in a most delightful way to another place and seemingly to another time as well. Carmela Flores is now on line. I am hopeful that I can share some of her work and perhaps some of her students' work with you in the near future.

The piece shown here is divided and shown in separate exhibits in the E-Museum: the pyrograph itself is in the Antique Hall in Peni's own salon showing her Flemish Art Collection; the punch set is in the Antique Pyrographic Tools Exhibit in the Tools Hall there. Peni has more of her Flemish Art collection as well as examples of her own decorative painting and even views of her beautiful garden on her own website Peni's Palette of Colors.

Vern Robinson's Pyroengraved Carvings with Inlays

Vern Robinson (right) posing with Wayne Rostad,
Host of the "On the Road Again" TV Show

Each is holding one of Vern's pyroengraved carved walking sticks

Canadian Vernon Robinson, also known as The Stick Man, is from Thunder Bay, Ontario. He has already appeared on two television shows in Canada featuring his interesting life story and his hiking and walking sticks. The CBC network show "On the Road Again" aired this past January and again in the spring. Click on the link here to see Vern Robinson's Website, where you can see more of his work, read his autobiography, and learn more about the TV shows where he was featured. The Vern Robinson Salon will soon be added in the E-Museum as well.

It has been more than five years since Vern took up carving and pyroengraving walking sticks in earnest. One of his favorite parts of the lengthy process is spending as much time as possible hiking in the forest with his dog Zephyr looking for unusually shaped sticks to carve. Vern uses a variety of woods for his canes and staffs, such as diamond willow, maple, cherry, poplar, spruce, and cedar. He takes only fallen trees or branches for his use and never cuts a tree. Once he brings them home, he strips the bark from them and puts them to dry for as much as a year.

King Fisher
by Vern Robinson

Carved wood limb detailed and textured in pyrography and inlaid with abalone shells

Vern recounts how this walking stick came about:
"This cane was certainly a challenge. I was asked to make a sturdy lightweight cane with a King Fisher bird on it. I selected Black Ash, as the wood is very strong. And when carving a bird such as this, I needed a wood which could absorb the everyday bumps without breaking. The feathers and beak have been woodburned to offer texture and a sense of realism. At the bird's feet, I inlaid some abalone shell."

Vern now receives orders for his canes and hiking sticks from around the world, and part of that success is due to the fact that he custom makes each one, not only in terms of the carved motif, but in terms of the customer's functional requirements for which he asks very specific questions to determine precisely what those needs are, such as what will the cane be used for, which side will it be carried on, what height should it be, what weight should it carry comfortably, what size hand does the intended user have.

Vern's sculptures are fascinating. He works in a basically realistic sort of style; however, since he is working on oddly shaped pieces of wood, he has to adapt his carving to suit the already uneven shape in addition to the fact that the sculpture has to be adapted to the stick's function and its basic shape, that is, the narrow shape of a stick. He does a masterful job of drawing his stylized creatures out of the stick, yet always leaving them integrated with it.

White Buffalo
by Vern Robinson

Carved wood limb detailed and
textured in pyrography and
inlaid with amethyst, abalone shells,
and leather

"The White Buffalo,"
Vern says, "was also a challenge.
The request was to carve a
White Buffalo in the center of a cane.
I needed to somehow separate the buffalo
from the rest of the wood.
This is where the woodburning came in.
I created texture and design
above and below,
and highlighted the buffalo.
I also inlaid amethyst at his hooves,
abalone shell just below the front
of him, and at the front
and near the top of the cane
I inlaid a circle piece of buffalo hide
and woodburned around it
so that it would give the appearance
of a sun."

Vern's story of the Scottie walking stick (shown below) follows:
"This cute little guy was a local lady's companion for years--a Scottie dog carved on a piece of Diamond Willow. Just underneath the head you will notice a small picture. This was the only picture she had of her beloved dog, so I took the picture, inlaid it into the cane, then placed and sealed a piece of plexi-glass over top. Now she once again takes her dog for a walk each day. Woodburning was used to create texture and color."

by Vern Robinson

Carved wood limb detailed and
textured in pyrography and inlaid with a photograph portrait

by Vern Robinson

Carved wood limb detailed and
textured in pyrography
and inlaid with semiprecious gemstones

Vern tells about the hummingbird walking stick (above right): "As for the hummingbird and the inlaid jewels, it was just an idea I had. I had bought semiprecious gems at a fair, not knowing what I was going to do with them. While carving the hummingbird, I was thinking about their magnificent colors when the sun catches them. Not wanting to paint any of my carvings, I thought of the gems I had bought. I wondered whether, if placed strategically, they might offer the color I was looking for. So I gave it a try."

Vern on how he learned: "I have never taken any classes, or read any books about carving; it was all trial and error--and Band-Aids, and more Band-Aids." Vern's father was born in Jamaica, where native carvers have perfected a technique for holding their work between their knees or feet while carving, and that is how Vern holds his pieces when working on them. His pyrography follows as an integral part of the sculpture. Inlaying stones and other things is an additional enhancement not used on every piece but only for those special ones that call for it.

Vern on how he shares his knowledge with others: "I have taught a couple of woodcarving classes," Vern continued, "and have always begun with the basics. I set up carving classes in correctional facilities for youths, who had little patience and a desire for immediate results. So I showed them my scarred hands and the first aid box with a needle and thread. They asked me 'what's that for?' and I told them 'if you use your tools without knowing how to take care of them, we will probably have to stitch you up.' They all looked at me wide-eyed, and said 'okay.'"

Besides his autobiography on his own website, Vern Robinson was featured in the last issue of the E-Zine posing with his chimpanzee walking stick and telling his story in regard to pyrography as a healing art. Since his pyroengraved, carved walking sticks took him on a new road in life, Vern says "The journey just keeps getting better."

Thomas Benally Inlays Turquoise

Freedom Spirit and Golden Child
by Thomas Benally

The woman's deceased husband's spirit watches over his family below

Pyrography, sand painting, colored pencils, pastels,
and turquoise inlay on wood panel, 32 in. by 22 in.
Image courtesy of the artist and the Red Chief Trading Post

Self-taught Navajo artist Thomas Benally, who shows his art work on the Red Chief Trading Post website, has developed his own technique by combining pyrography, colored pencils, pastels, sand, and inlaid turquoise stones. The themes of his work reflect his Navajo traditions, while his techniques and style of work are his own invention.

Performing Art

Craig "Durf" Durfee Working on a Large Sign

Solar pyrography--executed by means of a magnifying glass--on wood panel

Performing arts are what Craig "Durf" Durfee enjoys. His first profession is as a stagehand specializing in lighting and even some theatrical pyrotechnics. A second career grew out of that in professional pyrotechnics--yes, the man who gets to light all those huge fireworks! He took up solar pyrography in much the same way, that is, as a performing art. Durf explains it this way: "I have no art training, so I am a bona fide folk artist..... but the fact is, it seems as though, 'performance folk artist' is most appropriate. Even though I have displayed in several galleries, never have they moved a piece. It's as though 'ya gotta see it to appreciate it.' Even the many people that I tell that I burn designs in wood with a magnifying glass, the better share of them are dumbfounded when they actually see me at work (or play, depending on your point of view)!"

Phoenix Rising
by Craig "Durf" Durfee

Solar pyrograph on wood plaque, shown approximately full size

Durf's start in solar pyrography. "A few years back I was doing some extensive independent study, advertising and marketing, promotion, design, and layout. I was working with a chimney sweep, and we had a small retail store up in Michigan. What we didn't have was a sign.

It seemed the appropriate sign would be woodburned. First, I tried a propane torch and found that it bled too much (using a masking would have worked, probably); the next effort was with a soldering gun that was heavy, intermittent, and attached to electricity. Then the light went on, 'when we were kids the magnifying glass that came in the bottom of CrackerJacks (occasionally) would set leaves and sticks on fire.... 'I wonder if...' So, I went inside and dug out a glass, and--lo-and-behold--about 40 minutes later I had a reasonable facsimile of a logo. Then, the more I thought about it, I was both amused and amazed."

Durf's Idea for a Performing Art. "So, the next day when I showed it to the boss, his response was, 'That's awfully small for a sign.' I told him that human nature being what it is, we'd lay the sign out and erect it BLANK, then the days we sat and the sun was shining I'd go lean on it and work. His reaction was, 'How long will it take?'

I said that it doesn't matter because people will drive by and sooner or later their curiosity will get the best of them as they see the graphics taking shape.... sooner or later they will stop and ask 'What are you doing?'

>From that point on, it will be a sign like no other, because when they drive by with someone else along, they will point at this sign and say something to the effect:

'....and the fool stood out here for months with a magnifying glass and did that!' "

Anyway, not only do they talk about it, but they work in little side trips to observe the progress. I have met thousands of folks that might not otherwise have the time of day for me.

Sampling of Souvenirs for Sale
by Craig "Durf" Durfee
Solar pyrography--executed by means of a magnifying glass--on assorted small wood pieces

Durf did some reminiscing about his past solar pyrography performances and why they mean so much to him. He told about his only ever art show, the Green Bridge Art Show in Bradenton, Florida, and the gratifying experience he had there. He wanted as usual to be 'performing' because he knew that if, like the public, the judges didn't see him at work, they would not have an understanding or appreciation of his medium.

That was when Miss Jo found him. She had brought a group with her to the art show, and, as far as they were concerned, Durf was the hands-down winner. "Turns out, the folks in her company," Durf recounts, "were all blind (some more so than others), and they could 'see' my stuff by feeling--like reading braille. Had a luncheon with them and passed around some pieces....it was really cool to watch them reading it."

Another time, an Asian couple watched him work for about 20 minutes. The gentleman waved his hand over Durf's works spread on the ground and asked him, 'Sell'? Durf smiled and nodded, picked up a couple of pieces to show and told him the prices. He picked up one and again asked, 'Sell?' Durf said the gentleman pulled out his wallet and exposed his cash (lots of cash) and Durf took the $10 for the piece. When the man offered him more, Durf didn't take it, but he says he "sure did appreciate how much they appreciated it."

Still another time, Durf watched a man and his small son ride tandem past him a few times. When they stopped, the father started to explain to his son what Durf was doing. Durf scooped the boy up and sat him down and together they started burning. The boy wasn't quite coordinated enough but was happy watching him, so Durf burned a little necklace for him with his name on it. "His Dad tried to give me some money," Durf said, "I wouldn't take it--like ya can give kids enough attention or love."

The next day, the two were back, and the father said, "We keep stopping and looking at interesting things, and when I ask the boy 'what next?', he wants to come back and see you some more. I'm supposed to meet up with his Mom, but would like to do a little shopping, could you/would you mind keeping him busy for a little while?"

"Gladly, and we burned two more pieces. one for his sister and one for his little brother....the guy flipped me $20 for something that I would have taken $5 for if I wanted to sell them. I just wanted to share the goodness that they extended to me. LIFE IS GRAND."

Craig "Durf" Durfee at Work

Solar pyrography on wood round

Durf's Technique. "I can get a continuous line.... although on my bigger projects I tend to rough it in with a larger lens and then go back and clean it up with a smaller one, so depending on the grain and the intensity of the sun, the line may very well be intermittent."

I am not of the 'typical mold.' My guess is that I have between 5 and10 thousand pieces in over 30 countries, most of them very simple glyphs..... if they're interested enough to stop, smell the roses, and think about it for a moment, I usually make sure that they don't walk away empty-handed. It's about 'art' not money. It is not what I intended or expected for a driving force (the PASSION) in my life, but--in part because of it--I am a truly fortunate soul.

The Author

Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez learned her pyrography techniques in Guatemala in 1975-1977. 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, January 2000 marked the beginning of the fourth year of articles on pyrography for the WWWoodc@rver E-Zine, started January 1997, and the third year of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, which opened 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 eGroups uniting_pyrographers mailing list, member list, and chat forum set up by Mixo Sydenham of Australia for IAPA members.

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

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