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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 9

Pyrography Past and Present

Olive Hughes, Still Making History!

Daisy Bowl
by Olive Hughes, 1998

Deep recess, turned bowl of Hoop Pine
Daisy design worked in pyrography and color deep on base and inside of bowl
Image courtesy of the artist

Australian Olive Hughes' two encounters with the medium of pyrography were somewhat by chance. Always devoted to art, Olive set out as a young lady to study painting and that has been her focus throughout her life. This segment is dedicated to telling about her second encounter with pyrography and then linking to a firsthand account of Olive Hughes' original encounter with pyrography--as a factory worker in the 1930s.

By a fortunate twist of fate--after about sixty years!--Olive's talents for pyrography were rediscovered by the Woodturners Guild in Sydney, Australia.

For the last four years, this remarkable octagenarian has been producing work like the examples shown here, decorating their handsome turned-wood pieces in a masterful blending of pyrography and painting.

Waterlilies Bowl
by Olive Hughes, 1998

Waterlilies in pyrography and color on turned wood bowl

Turned wood bowl of Silky Oak is by Harry Jones

Olive's Curriculum Vitae is a fascinating list of travels combined with art that anyone would envy.

In pursuit of her painting career, Olive has studied with G. K. Townshend, Desiderious Orban, and credits Rubery Bennett with guidance.

Between 1969 and 1979, she visited art centres in nine countries of Europe plus Israel, as well as pursuing studies in England. Also during that decade, she attended a World Education Conference in Japan and studied at the International Academy in Salzburg, Austria. She also went to Vermont, U.S.A. to paint with Claude Croney and was even able to travel to remote Alaska, U.S.A. to see Eskimo art.

Two Koalas
by Olive Hughes, 1998

Pyrography and color on wood plaque of Silky Oak


Olive didn't slow down for the decade of the 1980s either--quite the contrary! She traveled regularly every couple of years to various places in the United States to give workshops and lectures.

Between 1981 to 1986, in her capacity as an Art Lecturer for P. & O. Shipping Lines serving the Pacific and the Mediterranean, Olive traveled to Japan, Korea, China, and Malaysia. She even managed to visit Nepal with a group of artists. That decade of the 1980s and even into 1991 was also a period when she had successful one-woman exhibitions of paintings and even sculpture, too. Besides Australia and the United States, her work is in private collections in England, continental Europe, Canada, and Japan.

Olive Hughes' Poker Work Past

It was IAPA member Sue Walters who first heard about Olive Hughes through an article in the Australian Wood Review magazine, issue #23. Thanks to her efforts in soliciting permission from the Australian Wood Review magazine, the E-Museum was able to reprint their article entitled Rekindling an Art in its entirety. The Australian Wood Review, like many other magazines today, has been observing and documenting the resurgence of the pyrographic medium in the art world.

Olive's story--especially her first encounter with pyrography--is the focus of that article, much of it told in Olive's own words, telling about when she was a very young woman working as an artist in a poker work factory in Australia starting almost seventy years ago.

You are invited to click on the article's link to visit a period in the history of pyrography as seen through the eyes of Olive Hughes.

Special Techniques: M. Jordan Tierney's Assemblages

Augural Shadows, Detail
by M. Jordan Tierney, 2000

Assemblage of pyrography, paint, and sandblasting on wood,
plus flasks and window; 100 in. by 55 in. by 5 in.

American artist M. Jordan Tierney works and lives in the same place. She is a partner in 57N Fine Art in Washington, DC, a studio and art gallery complex plus apartments in an adapted warehouse in northwest Washington, DC, not far from the Capitol Building. In addition, she has her own business, Azimuth Art and Framing, specializing in custom framing; exhibit design, fabrication, and installation; and crating.

For the time being, however, Jordan is neither living nor working in Washington. She just left in October 2000 to work as Artist in Residence at the Austrian Federal Chancellery in Vienna Austria where she will be staying through the month of December.

When I last talked to Jordan, on the very day she was hurriedly packing to leave for Vienna, I asked her if she had learned her pyrography in college. She replied that she had started burning later. She couldn't remember exactly when, she continued, but at some "impasse" in her work, she tried a blowtorch to get the effect she needed.

"Paint sits on the surface," she further explained, " I want a lot of history and burning achieves that antique feeling and patina. It is one with the surface."

by M. Jordan Tierney, 2000

Assemblage of pyrography, painting, and sanding on wood; sewing patterns in glass; 47 in. by 57 in. by 2 in.

Jordan made an analogy to working with charcoal on paper to explain why burning appeals to her so much. She said that she likes to be able to "sand things off" as she's working.

Special Burning Techniques. As evidenced in the examples here, blowtorch pyrography has become a major component of Jordan's recent assemblage work. In addition, she occasionally uses a conventional woodburning tool. She prefers to work on plywood for the grain exposure, something she makes use of quite effectively when working with her blowtorch.

by M. Jordan Tierney, 2000

Pyrography and color on assemblage of mixed-media wood construction, piano-wire construction, plus found objects
Size 98 in. by 53 in. by 7 in.

Although she never felt she was the only one doing pyrography, Jordan doesn't know anyone else working in this medium.

The arranging and texturing of her assemblages is Jordan's forté. Her use of grid patterns is very striking and not only caught this writer's attention, but also that of Ferdinand Protzman of The Washington Post who had this to say in April 1999 about Jordan and "her incorporation of some form of grid pattern in every work.":

Whether it is the wires of a discarded bedspring in "Aftermath" or the checkerboard of plywood squares on which Tierney has painted [in blowtorch pyrography, did he not realize?] a haunting figure in "Topological Presence," [on display in her E-Museum Salon], the grid gives her assemblages a new thematic and stylistic rigor.

He went on to say: This sectioning off calls to mind the way we divide time and space for a variety of purposes. But the compartmentalization is also an invitation to individually investigate each square, and then to try and see how they all fit together.

Jordan juxtaposes shadowy suggestions of human figures with concrete elements of the assemblage. Particularly pleasing and intriguing is her piece entitled "Augural Shadows" showing a human figure, mostly skeletal, partially obscured by rows of flasks. The flasks, which contain paper dolls, are also very curious.

You may, like this writer, have to look up the word "Trephining" in the dictionary to really grasp Jordan's interpretation of an ancient (and gruesome) medical practice that has some modern practitioners today. Clue #1: If you look carefully, you will be able to observe a nail right in the center of the top of the figure's head. Clue #2: Object on lower right of the assemblage.

Visit her E-Museum Salon to see the whole work "Augural Shadows" (shown in detail in this segment) and more examples of Jordan Tierney's assemblages.

Book Review

Pyrography Designs
By: Norma Gregory

Paperback; 37 color photos; 358 black-and-white line drawings;111 pages; ISBN: 1 86108 116 2; publisher: Guild Of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd, East Sussex, U.K.

As the attractive cover so well illustrates, Norma Gregory's book is a delightful and varied collection of designs, mostly all line drawings with shading because as she wrote in her introductory chapter, "...the majority of designs available provide little or no help as to where to put the shading, yet shading is essential to give the designs depth, a sense of realism and to emphasize certain elements. I have, as a result of this, added shading to the designs to suggest where it should go."

Included in the collection are geometric designs, organic elements in geometric designs, Celtic designs, flowers, plants, birds, aquatic and beach scenes, cottages, small animals, and more.

Norma Gregory has been a teacher of one sort or another all of her professional life. She took up pyrography in 1980 and gives lessons and exhibitions to a wide variety of groups.

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

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.