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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 10

Pyrography and Celtic Art Motifs

Ancient Celtic designs are a favorite with many artists, and pyrographic artists are among their biggest fans. Celtic art is intriguing and beautiful and the designs work beautifully with pyrography, even combined with other designs. In the Pyro Cafe Down Under as well as the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art are works in Celtic designs by many prominent pyros.

Sharon Garvey, Multimedia Artist

Christmas Egg, View 1
by Sharon H. Garvey, 1987

Diptych wood egg decorated in pyrography and color

Image courtesy of the artist

American artist Sharon Garvey has officially declared that the egg came first, especially in this case, since no wood chicken has shown up to claim it.

That being said, let me introduce Sharon. I have known her since she was born (I won't say how many years ago). She is my younger sister who graduated in Fine Arts from Notre Dame and went on to get her master's and later teach at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Annapolis, Maryland.

Sharon has always had a penchant for working on unusual projects. For many years, she has painted a blown egg--usually, but not always, a chicken egg--as an Easter gift for our parents. The idea for this wood Christmas egg 'hatched' from a basic woodworking course that she and her husband Tim Wisecarver took together back in 1987. She had two wood eggs and decided to cut one in half lengthwise and the other widthwise to experiment with her new skills. The former became the diptych shown here in four views and a Christmas present for our mother that year.

Christmas Egg, View 2
by Sharon H. Garvey, 1987

Diptych wood egg decorated in pyrography and color

Image courtesy of the artist

Sharon's outer design was inspired by a Celtic art design, which she adapted to the egg shape and to which she added some details of her own, such as the little trompe l'oeil keyhole and the pyroengraved dedication to the recipient. Much of the coloring was done with permanent markers.

The diptych design on the inside of the egg came from two sources of inspiration: the Madonna and Child from an 11th Century ivory carving and the Nativity scene from a 15th Century illumination (probably German). The background on the Madonna and Child side Sharon executed in a dotted pyrotexture.

The egg shown here is one of only two woodburned ones that Sharon has done. Of the many eggs she has painted for Easter and a few she did on commission for clients, she has done other Celtic designs, one of which was an eagle, the symbol for St. John the Evangelist, and another of which was a design from the Book of Kells.

Another Celtic egg by Sharon met an untimely end. It was a hollow chicken egg, painted in a motif taken from a Celtic manuscript illustration showing Christ being led away by soldiers. The fragile egg, sent to a friend as an Easter present, survived being mailed from Mexico to Ireland quite nicely. The recipient, a student, wanting to protect it, repacked it in its original box. While he was away from the house, the cleaning woman where he lived with an Irish family, hefted the box, thought it empty, and threw it away.

Christmas Egg, View 3
by Sharon H. Garvey, 1987

Diptych wood egg decorated in pyrography and color

Image courtesy of the artist

Perishable Pyro Art

Besides eggs, Sharon sculpts pumpkins in layers creating elaborate designs that seem to leap out at you from the pumpkin. Sharon undertook many of these unusual jack-o'-lanterns and eventually started doing an annual show of these and selling art photographs she herself took of them. She kept this up for seven years showing at a gallery in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia where she was living at the time. Her pumpkin sculptures were featured in a beautifully done television segment aired in Washington DC on Studio Nine with Maureen Bunyan some years back.

I asked Sharon whether she thought jack-o'-lanterns were a type of pyro art since the fire that lights them is really an integral part of the art work. Although she believes that the early jack-o'-lanterns made from turnips (in Scotland) and pumpkins (in the New World) were really pyro art works, her own, she says, evolved from those. Moreover, because the candle flames so quickly dried out the inside of the pumpkins she sculpted, she began substituting electric lights so that they would last longer. Her art photographs of the jack-o'-lanterns make use of the lit pumpkin as well as external lights for the various effects she gets that differ from viewing the jack-o'-lantern itself. She also likes to photograph the pumpkin sculpture as it deteriorates to record the metamorphosis.

Christmas Egg, View 4
by Sharon H. Garvey, 1987

Diptych wood egg decorated in pyrography and color

Image courtesy of the artist

Celtic designs have been prominent in Sharon's pumpkin sculpture as well. One of her favorites was a St. John from the Book of Kells. The haunting Celtic face made a striking lit sculpture and likewise a striking photograph series done in various lighting effects lit from the outside as well.

On Halloween, she still likes to carve a traditional jack-o'-lantern for the children and light it with a candle.

For the time being, Sharon is occupied with other things in her life, but she plans in the not too distant future to put together a coffee table book primarily of her pumpkin sculpture. She has put a lot of time into researching the American Civil War because of an ancestral diary passed down in her husband's family and would also like to see that story turned into a book. Also envisioned is another book--somewhere between a children's book and an adult book--about a mischievous clown with a peculiar sense of humor, but that's another story....

Pyroengraved Celtic Designs: Dave Hicks

Commemorative Plaque
by Dave Hicks, 2000

Pyrography and a little egg tempera color on wood

Image courtesy of the artist

English artist Dave Hicks of Birmingham describes himself as "a driven man." "I can't sit still for five minutes," he says. "I love to create."

Dave is very much a multimedia artist. He's been painting and sculpting for 15 years and even those media came after his very first love, which was photography. He also likes earthenware pots that he fires in a kiln. He got started in pyrography, however, only a few years ago when he started working on some humidors for which this medium seemed the perfect choice.

Why does Dave continue in the pyrographic medium over other media he might use? Actually, as it turns out, he does everything at once! Apparently, he likes to be 'up to his elbows' in projects at all times. Among other things, at juried shows for the last year and a half he has been showing some pyroengraved panels in a Celtic design.

Celtic Decoration on Ukelele, and Detail
by Dave Hicks, 2000

Pyrographic and carved decoration of Celtic motifs on wood ukelele

Celtic pyrography was the first pyrography Dave did. He loves the Celtic designs as so many of us pyros and other artists do. He particularly likes, too, that he can build his own designs within the Celtic format. Dave is "not the measuring type;" however, for his very intricate Celtic patterns, he works them out in two or three plots by hand. He notes that mechanical means are frowned on for working in fine art.

When working on a project in any of the various media he so enjoys, Dave always attempts to bring out the quality of the material he is using. In the case of his pyroengraved work, Dave likes to work in a heavy burn to bring out the quality of the medium itself and contrast it with the beauty of the wood he is simultaneously working to showcase with his design and finish.

Church commissions are an important source for Dave's opportunities in pyrography; an example of one such commission is the striking Celtic plaque shown above to commemorate a church festival. Not only did he work the plaque in the ancient medium of pyrography, Dave added a very traditional coloring--egg tempera (a mixture of pigment, yolk, and water) as the medium of choice to enhance the pyroengraving, because of its vibrant colors.

Celtic Decoration on Guitar
by Dave Hicks, 2000

Celtic Decoration on guitar

Like using wax paints on marble statues, Dave likes the versatility of pyrography because of its characteristic of isolation, meaning the way the paints are separated one from another and that pyrography likewise puts a burned line of separation between colors. He has been trying his hand at pyrography on paper as well and likens the effect to silverpoint. He says that he has seen other pyros on the IAPA message board trying out pyrography on plastic, so he is planning on going there soon, too. He noted that pyrography can be used much like wood engraving and woodcuts to do printing and he wants to experiment using pyrography to get an intaglio effect for printing, too. He thinks he could pyroengrave plastic instead of wood for this purpose and that afterwards he could ink up the plastic, then rub it off, and that it would be similar to drypoint.

Dave Hicks is a modern day champion of both the ancient medium of pyrography and the ancient Celtic art tradition. A Celtic theme greets every visitor to the very handsome Dave Hicks Website, which from the homepage starts with a Dave Hicks emblem bearing a Celtic knot to enter and an image of pyroengraved Celtic borders after that. A sampling of Dave's artworks will be on display soon in the Dave Hicks E-Museum Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

In Memoriam

Gary Eckelberry, 11 November 1941 to 16 December 2000

Gary Eckelberry with Grandson Steven

Although the international Association of Pyrographic Artists (IAPA) is still a fledgling group of more or less 100 members (or perhaps BECAUSE it is such a small group), it has become a close community of friends joyfully sharing a common interest while simultaneously offering moral support in good times and bad, as friends do.

It was inevitable that one day, among all the advice, chatter, and good news about new artworks, new shows and classes, or prizes won, bad news would come. It turned out sadly to be the passing of one of our members, Gary Eckelberry of Cheney, Washington, who died of a heart attack on 16 December 2000.

Thanks to Barbara Cramer, Gary first became known to me at the end of May 2000, and immediately joined the IAPA members on site at eGroups at the beginning of June after our introductions.

Gary was a very active participant in the IAPA group. His widow Roberta, who came on line on Gary's own e-mail to give us the sad news a couple of weeks after Gary's death, comforted all of us by telling us how much the group had meant to Gary and how much he was enjoying his very active participation in it, including in the popular quilt square project, right up to the moment of his death.

At the time Gary joined IAPA, my special feature article on pyrography as a healing art had just been published. Gary read that article and told me afterwards how he had gotten into woodcarving while looking for a meaningful hobby as therapy when he began his recovery program in May of 1998. At a Spokane woodcarving show later that year he discovered pyrography and bought a tool, wood, and a book written by a lady who was at the show selling her book and her woodburnings. He emphasized how much his woodburning had helped him and kept him going during his ongoing recovery.

Little did he know then or even at the time he wrote me in May 2000 that by October of 2000, he would be ecstatic to learn that at that same show in Spokane he would win a blue ribbon on one of his pieces and a red on another, then go on to win Best in Novice and Best in Division. His friend, who had been present during the judging, told him that he had come "within a hair of winning Best in Show"!

Just as Gary received a warm welcome when he arrived on the IAPA list at eGroups, he now received heartfelt congratulations. Such a short time later, he posthumously would receive heartfelt eulogies from people like Peg Wood who was the one to write the group and tell us about Gary's prizes because he was too shy to do so himself. A widow herself, upon news of his passing, sent comforting words to Roberta. Sue Walters wrote to tell Roberta and the IAPA group "in testament to his generosity and friendship" how Gary had gone to great lengths to get her some special wood and had sent it to her all the way to Australia. He was never to see the present she had sent him in gratitude for his kindness. From Kitten came a virtual sympathy card with a poem, and from Barbara Cramer, who had met Gary over the internet in the early part of last year, more moving words of admiration and respect and comfort for Roberta, whom Gary had so often mentioned to her. Barbara recounted how she and Gary had become trusted friends through frequent e-mails and an occasional snail-mail and how she had received a woodburned present from Gary sent as a token of appreciation. To me he sent a Canadian Lynx quilt square, and even thoughtfully wrote before sending it and asked me to choose which one I wanted from his on-line photo album. David Wickenden wrote of the support and honest criticism Gary had offered, and started another quilt project in Gary's honor. More tributes came from Miriam Cole, Connie, and Dave Hicks. By the time I called Roberta, she told me she had received over 200 e-mails from our group. She was noticeably moved by the group's response and so glad, too, that she was surrounded with so many pieces done by Gary that now comfort her.

Chief Joseph
by Gary Eckelberry

Pyrography on wood panel

Image courtesy of the artist's estate

This link will take you to an on-line photo album of Gary Eckelberry, displaying pictures of Gary, his widow and family, his pyrographic art work, and more.

We knew him for only half of a year, yet he touched us all and will remain in our memory.

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 2001 marked the beginning of the fifth year of articles on pyrography for the Woodcarver Online Magazine, started January 1997, and the fourth 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 IAPA Director Mixo Sydenham of Australia for IAPA members.

© 2001 Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.