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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 12, Page One of Two

It's a Small (Pyro) World After All

Page One:
Samuel K. Anderson
Michael Janson
A Second Ball Hughes Pyrograph
J. William Fosdick Bequeaths a Treasure

Page Two:
Pyros in the News
Sue Walters on Tagua Nuts and Her New Website
The Quintessential Trompe L'Oeil: Pyrography on Money
David Wickenden: Fighting Fire with Fire

Samuel K. Anderson

Laughing Girl with Jug
by Samuel K. Anderson

Pyrography on wood plaque

Image courtesy of the artist

Ghanaian Samuel K. Anderson's artistic talents were discovered in 1989 when he was still in school. Born in Mankessim Nkusukum in the Central Region of Ghana, Samuel graduated in Cape Coast there from St. Augustine's College in 1995.

His Start, Tool, and Technique

Samuel recounts that he was greatly interested in charcoal drawing, painting, and sculpture while at school, but always wanted to come up with a new and difficult art form--one which other artists would not even think of or attempt doing. He says,

"So, by applying my charcoal drawing techniques, I started drawing with hot nails on wood (plywood)."

Samuel's style of pyrography evolved into what he came to call "scorchism." He defines scorchism as "a style of art that involves parching or slight surface burning...a style of fire drawing."

Of his school days Samuel recounts that because of "the uniqueness of my paintings, collages, mosaics, charcoal drawings, and especially my fire drawing, I was the only one adjudged a four-time best artist in my alma mater since its establishment."

About his work today, he goes on to say, "I can now draw with any medium that produces fire on any wooden or burnable material. I am inspired mostly by what I witness and experience in my immediate environment. What I see makes an indelible mark on me, which in turn is reflected in my art works, especially life in and around 'Akan' land."

Boats on the Beach
by Samuel K. Anderson

Pyrography on wood plaque

Image courtesy of the artist

Every work Samuel does is his original design. A few of his works are abstract; however, almost all are a type he calls naturalism that depict "real life, facts with idealization." Samuel's subject matter includes land and seascapes, portraits, and especially people engaging in their day-to-day activities. Through his art work, Samuel shares with the viewer the rich physical and cultural beauty that is Ghana and Africa. His sensitive choice of subject matter, strong compositions, skilled drawing, and artistic sense of capturing the moment make for highly effective pyrographic paintings.

Samuel earns his living from his pyro art. His first outdoor exhibition was held at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Accra, in November 1997. Other places where he has exhibited since include the Raybow International Hotel, Takoradi, Novotel, Shangri-La, and Tulip Hotels all in Accra, plus the National Art Centre, the National Theatre, and the Signature and Artist Alliance Art Galleries in Accra in addition to other art expositions and trade fairs within Ghana. He is also a registered member of Artist Alliance, headed by Prof. Ablade Oscar O. Glover based at Nungua.

See more fine examples of work by this leading contemporary pyrographic artist of Ghana in the Samuel K. Anderson Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

Michael Janson

by Michael Janson

Pyrography on paper

Image courtesy of the artist

Russian pyrographic artist Michael Janson lives with his wife, 17-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter, three cats, and a newfoundland hound in St. Petersburg. He got his degree as a thermophysicist and works as a teacher of computer graphics. That last word is the keyword to the rest of this story.

Michael always liked graphics (pencil, pen, India ink). When he started experimenting with a pyro tool ten years ago, he says "everything went right." The result was so good that his works were purchased by an art shop. He started making plaques and boxes for tourists. In the summertime he taught children at camp.

Recently Michael has tried pyrography on paper (Bristol cardboard) as evidenced in the examples shown here. He says it was a gradual process without any outside influence (much like how he started pyrography in the first place). He compares pyrography on paper to etching and sees a number of opportunities for himself connected with pyrography that he is now exploring.

Wood Abstract
by Michael Janson

Pyrography on paper

Image courtesy of the artist

His Tool and Techniques

Uzor Pyro Tool

Michael says that he works with a pyro-device (shown here) that is primarily made for children. Its name Uzor translates as "pattern" and it costs approximately 3 dollars US. It has only one pyro pen, which cannot be changed. Note the little rack that extends to hold the hot pen when it's not in use. (Image courtesy of Runet)

Michael says that he woodburns as he would draw with a pencil. He observes, however, that there are two important differences between pyrography on paper and traditional graphics techniques:

1) In monochrome pyrography, the colors of the lines and shadows are made by the paper itself so that uncolored pyrography possesses a unique color limitation--its color isn't the decision of the artist but rather the reaction of the material to the influence of the tool.

2) Pyrography is 3-dimensional and consequently depends on light; therefore, achieving high quality illustrations of pyrography on the internet is "not an easy task."

In Michael's opinion, for both of the reasons above, the sort of paper he uses makes for a significant difference in the end result. He says, for example, that the color of the picture depends on the paper. Ultimately, he believes, "Really EVERYTHING depends on it." We, on the other hand, would like to give the artist a little credit, too. The artistry in Michael's highly imaginative abstract compositions draws the viewer in to interpret the complexities and nuances to be found there.

Spiral of Crete
by Michael Janson

Pyrography on paper (bristol), 17*17 cm.

Fantasy with fragment of pattern from Cretan vessel

Image courtesy of the artist

Michael is just now beginning to gather images of his works for the internet. He does not yet have a website nor has he published his works prior to this article; however, he and his son are working together to make a bilingual (Russian-English) pyrography website, so I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of his very original and creative works in the near future.

The E-Museum Acquires a Second Ball Hughes Pyrograph

The Blind Beggar of Gretna Green
by Ball Hughes, Boston, 1863

Pyrography on wood panel in (original?) carved wood frame

Image courtesy of Michael Gildengorin

A year ago, I featured the first Ball Hughes' 1859 piece "Sleeping Knitting Girl" belonging to Lois Herna in a Woodcarvers Online Magazine article here. Recently, Michael Gildengorin sent me images of another piece by this artist, "The Blind Beggar of Gretna Green", shown above, and exhibited in greater detail in the E-Museum.

If you remember from that previous article, just as with this one, we knew the work was by Ball Hughes, since he had signed and dated it. We just weren't sure who Ball Hughes was. My research at that time turned up two possibilities--one Ball Hughes in England and another in America, a famous sculptor and engraver. The American one seemed likelier; at the same time I wondered if they could be one and the same.

IAPA European Director Richard Withers conjectured that the artist was perhaps a copyist who used famous paintings as models for his pyrographs. He thought he had seen the "Sleeping Knitting Girl" as a painting somewhere but wasn't sure. His observation seemed well taken then and even more so when this second example appeared and seemed equally well done yet totally different in look, suggesting a different design source.

The answers to these questions and more were revealed with the happy discovery of the J. William Fosdick article that is the subject of the following segment.

J. William Fosdick Bequeaths a Treasure

Decorative Portrait of Louis XIV
by J. William Fosdick, late 19th century

Pyroengraving on wood panel "adapted from existing portraits in the Museum of Versailles...Owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts"

Image and article excerpts reprinted with permission of Cornell University from their internet collection entitled Making of America

It was with enormous excitement that the Research Department of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art unearthed a wonderful treasure--an antique book containing an illustrated article entitled "Burnt Wood in Decoration: With Ancient and Modern Examples," written in 1896 by the famous pyrographer J. William Fosdick. This article has been published on the internet by Cornell University in their Making of America series.

As the title indicates, in his article Fosdick wrote about and illustrated not only 'modern' pyrography from his era including his own (all now, of course, more than 100 years old), but he also wrote about and illustrated then 'antique' works thereby adding significantly to our documentation on much older works.

A Third Work by Ball Hughes and a Mystery Solved

The Witches from "MacBeth"
by Ball Hughes, 1862

"Burned with a red-hot poker...
after the painting by Fuseli.
One of the earliest speciments of wood-burning in America.
Owned by J. William Fosdick"

Image and article excerpts reprinted with permission of Cornell University from the Cornell University internet collection entitled Making of America

Fosdick's article proved once more to be invaluable. As it turns out, Fosdick set the record straight on various questions raised with the discovery of the first two Ball Hughes works plus gave us another clue in the history of the medium itself when he wrote:

"The art first made its appearance in this country nearly fifty years ago, when Ball Hughes, the English sculptor, residing in Dorchester, Massachusetts, became well known as a burner of 'poker pictures.' As copies of old English and Italian masters, they possessed merit, being executed with marvelous deftness. They were not decorative, nor were they intended to be such."

Fosdick Initiates a Controversy

It is surprising that Fosdick, being the recognized and talented artist that he was, would end the above paragraph with the following personal opinion: "Only recently has this medium been used in decoration, which is its only legitimate field."
It is hard to imagine that he wouldn't find a lively discussion among artists today--or even then--about that topic. At the very least, it seems Ball Hughes more than 35 years before most certainly disagreed.

It also seems an odd pronouncement considering Fosdick's article itself illustrated two 16th century pieces--both decorative: "Panel from Italian side-board. Owned by H. G. Watson." and "Medieval chest in burnt wood. English workmanship... Owned by Henry Cabot Lodge."

The Witches from "MacBeth," Detail
by Ball Hughes, 1862

"Burned with a red-hot poker...
after the painting by Fuseli.
" One of the earliest speciments of wood-burning in America.
Owned by J. William Fosdick"

Image and article excerpts from the Cornell University internet collection entitled Making of America reprinted with permission of Cornell University

Besides the two 16th century pieces just mentioned above, there were four pieces illustrated in Fosdick's article that are by him (including the one shown at the beginning of this segment), the piece by Ball Hughes (shown twice above), plus a work by A. F. S. Kirby and another by Aldam Heaton. These last two artists are presumably Fosdick's contemporaries.

Keep in mind that since the article is over a hundred years old, the illustrations you are seeing are (unfortunately) NOT from photographs of the pyrographs but rather drawings of the pyrographs for the purpose of illustrating the article.

To view not a drawing but an actual image of a work by Fosdick, you can see his "Joan of Arc" at the Smithsonian's website in their special Treasures To Go series. Some of Fosdick's works are in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery collection in Washington D.C.; however, that institution's entire collection is either in storage or touring at present while the museum is under renovation.

Here again is the link to the J. William Fosdick article "Burnt Wood in Decoration: With Ancient and Modern Examples," (pages 495 to 500) on the Cornell University website. Don't miss it!

Click here for page two
(and to answer your question--
Read about me and
my tagua nut cousins
on the next page, okay?)

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