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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 12, Page Two 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

Pyro Artists in the News

Lone Wolf
by Sue Walters, 2001

Pyrography on a tagua nut
Enlarged to show detail

Image courtesy of Lynda Gibbs Eaves

There have been so many news items in recent months concerning IAPA members and other pyro artists we have seen here in the WOM that it seems we need to make this column a regular feature. There is no doubt that, thanks to the hard work, great art, and effort of our members and fellow pyro artists, pyrography has been noticed, accepted, and admired at a very gratifying rate. Suddenly pyrographic art work is in demand. It seems we are approaching a time when the medium of pyrography will not only cease to be an obstacle but may sometimes prove an advantage! To Mixo Sydenham, IAPA co-founder, what he was concerned was not going to happen in a cyber community is beginning to happen, that is, that the community of artists and art work could transcend both across and into the real world. Cheers, mate. This one's for you.

I almost hesitate to write this column because I know it is inevitable I will leave out some important news item and probably get the information wrong in others. If I didn't put in links throughout it was because of time constraints and because I did not have all of them readily available. Please send me corrections by private mail so we can post next time.

For the third year in a row, IAPA European Director Richard Withers of Wales stopped by Falls Church, Virginia when he came for his annual visit to the United States. Like the year before, he made an appearance to give a demo and talk to the Northern Virginia Carvers who were once more delighted to see him. This year Richard was in the States at the special invitation of Fox Publishing for their annual spring Open House in East Petersburg (near Lancaster) in Pennsylvania where he gave demos and a seminar for them.

IAPA South American Director Benelli had a great year as well. He recently had a one-man show in Sao Paulo, Brazil and later had a special exhibition at the International Conference of Dermatologists that he belongs to. He even wrote a poem and illustrated it for the occasion.

Also in March--a major milestone--Dawn Wasson took a Best in Show at the Pikes Peak Whittlers with a pyrograph on wood of a lion. A couple of months later, a layout of her pyro work on endangered species was accepted for publication in an exclusive specialty magazine, Wildlife Art.

In May, when Harp Corrigan's first ever portrait was noticed by a radio talk show host, Harp was invited to talk on the air about his harps and his pyro art for over an hour. During that time, his art harps partner Dawn Wasson called into the show and added to the exchange.

Carole Peters work was featured this spring in the Woodcarvers Illustrated magazine, a first in pyrography for that magazine.

Lynda Gibbs Eaves and her pyro work were pictured in an article about the Woodstock Wood Show in the Creative Woodworks & Crafts magazine.

Solar pyro Durf Durfee made the front page of the Grand Rapids Press. He was quick to add "I didn't go to jail, I was BURNING WOOD!!!"

The Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. hosted a special show for Jordan Tierney in April to highlight the work she had done in Austria during her two-month art residency there at the invitation of the Austrian government in late 2000.

Also in April, Antonio Vargas had a one-man show at a restored XVIII century hall in Coin (Malaga), Spain. When he told me that it was thanks to my visit to his website and the ensuing article and E-Museum exhibit, which had bolstered his courage to do that show, and asked me to write the opening comments on the catalogue brochure, I can't tell you how pleased I was. Suddenly the virtual world met the real one once again.

Teenager Adam Wickenden gave a speech on pyrography that took a third place at his school competition in Canada. Totally unaware of pyrography as an art form, teachers and judges alike were fascinated with the topic.

Television--yes we've made television as well! One of the judges at Adam's school is also a local television news reporter. He later contacted Adam's father for a story and demo on pyrography in a 5-10 minute TV segment about an official portrait and his art work in general. So many exciting things have happened to David Wickenden in recent months that I will tell you more about them in the segment that closes this article.

Both David Kreider on the Carol Duval HGTV show and Betty Auth on the Lynnette Jennings Discovery Channel show made appearances to talk about and demonstrate pyrography. And there's more to come.

Vern Robinson's TV Show. Vernon Robinson is Executive Producer of a new television show of his own! Vern, as you may recall, has been featured three times in the Woodcarvers Online Magazine, twice for pyrography. He is primarily a carver of walking staffs, which he often adorns with pyrography. Vern's new television show is in the works and he put out the word for talented carvers and pyrographers who would like to appear. He's already lined up his shows and shooting of the pilot is done. He's on his way! We all wish him all the best in this new and wonderful endeavor. Read more about his new show A Chip Off the Ol' Block linked here. Vern's show is a landmark event for pyrography and pyrographic artists.

The last entry in this segment is about a new craze in our medium that has developed among IAPA members--pyrography on tagua nuts. Once Sue Walters started, Thais Gloor saw the word 'nut' on the IAPA message board and was so excited she grabbed the first nut she had on hand--a peanut!--and started right in (did you "happen to notice" his 'little' picture on the previous page?). Now that is one crazed (dare I say 'nutty'?) pyrographer!

While Sue was in Australia doing her first experiments on tagua nuts, fellow IAPA member Lynda Eaves in Canada was having a hard time for health reasons. Sue wanted to cheer her up and sent her a present--a medallion of a wolf burned on a tagua nut.

Little did Sue or even Lynda imagine what would happen next. At a show Lynda wished to attend there was a pyrography no color category. For any category at a show to remain viable, there had to be at least three entries. Since Lynda generally uses color on her work, she chose two of her pieces that had almost none and entered Sue's medallion of the wolf as the third entry. All three pieces took a prize and Sue's little medallion went on to win Best Overall--a tiny little wolf burned on a tagua nut slice won the best of show at a woodcarvers competition in a foreign country.

SPECIAL: Sue Walters Experiments with Tagua Nuts

Black Swan, Left
Horse, Right
by Sue Walters, 2001

Pyrography on tagua nut (also known as vegetable ivory)
Shown actual size

Images courtesy of the artist

The tagua palm nut Phytelephas Equatorialis is one more of nature's wonders. It is the plant world's beautiful substitute for elephant ivory, and for this reason it is often referred to as vegetable ivory. As if that were not reason enough to like this richly ivory colored seed from a tagua (pronounced TAH-gwah) palm tree, the fact that tagua nuts are now being sustainably harvested from the rainforest floor, providing jobs for people who might otherwise be destroying the rainforest to make a living, provides one significant reason more.

Tagua Nut Source. Read more about this conservation-based enterprise at the One World Projects website where IAPA member Sue Walters found her source of supplies and pyroengraved five medallions made from slices of tagua nuts.

Not only is she pleased to support the work that they are doing, Sue recommends this site because they are the only place she found where she can get the tagua nut slices she prefers to the whole nuts. According to Sue, although whole tagua nuts can be sliced by bandsaw or hacksaw, the nuts often have a pocket in the middle that you won't know about until you've started cutting, which makes for a certain amount of waste. For this reason, Sue rates the slices a good value. She also says, "If people are after slices to try or indeed want good quality whole nuts and further information on carving and finishing tagua, this is a good site and the contacts have been very helpful."

Sue Walters' Notes on Her Experiments

Pyrographing designs on tagua nut slices. Sue starts by pointing out that because this material is oily, burning on it is not consistent, and obtaining a very dark or black color is very difficult. Another thing Sue discovered is that slower, cooler burning is far easier than fast burning, which melts and cooks the nut surface and creates a 'tar' residue. Sue says, "Tar residue is often present even with a slow burn, but to a lesser extent and depending how 'black' you are trying to burn; however, the tar residue can be wiped off easily with a wet cloth."

Choosing the tagua nut slices. Sue observed that fresher tagua nuts are harder to burn than the drier ones, because the moisture content is high with the fresher ones making them too oily. To dry tagua nuts further, Sue says they "can be placed under a cloth, under a lamp...like hatching eggs."

Other applications. Although she hasn't tried other media yet, Sue indicated that "Colour can be used as they take ink well."

Burning tips. Sue said that she does almost all of her work with the same three nibs (or tips) of her wire-tipped pen (Razertip is the tool she uses). Mostly she uses a spoon-shaped shading nib for all her tonal work and more. For sharp lines, she uses a number 7 curved skew. For example, she wrote, "I used a (spoon-shaped) shader for the general tone of the horse's coat. It was a matter of laying line after line of that for an even tone. (Quite tricky as it's hard to get a decent even burn on these things.) I found it had to be hot to burn at all, but not so hot it burns too fast as it creates a sort of 'tar' on the piece that will wash/rub off later...giving a false impression of the finished result. (Tagua are not for the impatient.)"

Finishing. Sue ended her notes by advising that both wax and Danish or tung oil can be applied to protect tagua nut slices from staining.

Unexpected hazard. Remember that tagua nuts are, after all, the seed of a plant. Sue learned that lesson the hard way when she had to pry two of her freshly 'pyro-baked' art works out of the mouths of her two dogs who apparently could not resist the tempting aroma. Luckily, tagua nuts' olfactory appeal lessens dramatically once they are cool for a while.

Sue Walters' New Website

Experimenting with tagua nuts is just one of many activities Sue has been involved in lately. She is especially excited about her new website: Sue Walters Pyrography for which she has high hopes, expressed here in her own words:

"Obviously the first intention is to showcase some of my work. I am constantly adding new images to the site as they are produced. I want a site that is non-static.... is constantly changing and being added to...not only with new work, but also by displaying the many experiments I do in pyrography. These experiments not only consist of burning as many safe materials as I can to see the reaction and explore the possibilities, but also consist of heavy experimentation in the visual, such as texture, realism, mixed media, colour application and so forth.

I'd like the site to help introduce people to pyrography who have not known it before....or who think of it only as a crude folk art or craft. I would like it to encourage people to try it if they wish. I would like it to encourage those who already burn to reach a bit further...to not be afraid....to rethink pyrography... to show there are few rules and we are only limited by our imaginations. To demystify the notion that you have to be a freak to burn tonal and realism pieces and do this by showing a visual Diary as I build selected works. The In Focus section also allows people to look close up at pieces that have created interest in the past, i.e., burning realistic animal fur, etc. My greatest hope is to show that, in my opinion, pyrography is one of the most versatile, exciting and unique and underrated mediums in all of the art and craft world.

The site will be growing rapidly with many interesting features in the future...including instructional material and an online burning course. I am open to accepting commissions and I can be contacted via this email: suewalters@iprimus.net.au"

Newsflash!!! Sue has a small book on how to burn tagua nuts in the works. If you are interested in getting more information about this subject, click here on Sue Walters--Information on Tagua Nuts to write to Sue and get the particulars.

The Quintessential Trompe L'Oeil

It has been fascinating to research and discover all the applications and occurrences of pyrography, but this story is really one for the records. Although of little interest as a work of art, the piece below by an unknown skilled artist is fascinating in every aspect. Take a look at the following image. First of all, did you ever think you'd find...

Pyrography on Money?!!!

Liliam Somoza Debayle of Managua, Nicaragua
by unknown artist, circa 1950

Photograph retouched and adorned with pyrography and color
Mounting done in pyrography and color

Image and story source from Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario, 26 March 2000 edition

This unusual piece is a trompe l'oeil at various levels. To understand and appreciate the pyrographic work, it is essential to put it into context.

The first unusual circumstance is that the pyrographic work was commissioned in the early 1950s as an image for paper currency in Nicaragua--their one-cordoba bill, in much the way in the United States of America we have--predictably--an image of George Washington on our one-dollar bill. The Nicaraguan case differs in that--not so predictably--the image is that of Liliam Somoza, the daughter of the then dictator of that country. Anastasio Somoza, who--in the way that only a dictator can--replaced the traditional image of Christopher Columbus on the cordoba with his daughter's when she was about 20 years old. It doesn't stop there, though.

It was decided that, although Liliam Somoza is obviously of European descent, she should be dressed as an American native. The reason for this decision may well have been political expediency--to make the idea of substituting the image of a Spaniard (Columbus) appealing by using the image of a true Nicaraguan 'native'. Her father conceded to his advisors. However, he chose--instead of having her appear in the dress of one of the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua--to show her in the dress of the Sioux tribe of North America. We can only conjecture that perhaps--in his perception--it would look more elegant or be a diplomatic gesture to the United States or even a last laugh sort of gesture. To adorn the piece, chrysanthemums were chosen instead of the national flower of Nicaragua, the 'sacuanjoche'. The original of this curiously mounted image served as a decorative item in the dictator's living room in the presidential palace in Managua.

It looks as though the hair on the subject's head is part of the photograph, although the newspaper account does not say that. It does indicate, however, that her braids, the feather, and the Sioux dress are additions done by the artist.

The newspaper journalist had a photography expert assess the piece and that person claimed the photograph itself was touched up with pyrography (which, according to pyrographic artist and photographic retouching expert Cheryl Dow, would give it a beautiful golden tone). The background was done first in pyrography and then in oil paints with vaseline as a medium to give the background a more transparent look. Finally, the photograph was worked in the technique of illumination. Of little concern, no doubt, to the journalist was the rest of the piece.

With nothing further to go on from the newspaper account except that the journalist referred to the whole piece once as a pyrographic work and a second time as a pyroengraving, I studied the story and the image of the piece with two other people. We concluded with careful scrutiny that the entire piece appears done in pyrography. To begin with, we noticed that two of the chrysanthemums go over the top of the rectangular frame and one of them goes over the bottom part of the portrait as well, suggesting that everything is a sort of trompe l'oeil--an optical illusion created in pyrography and color. The outer edge of the circle is most likely a pyroengraving; the background of the circle possibly a pyrographic shading or texture. The chrysanthemums are almost surely pyroengraved and the photograph's rectangular frame itself is almost surely a pyroengraving rather than a real frame!

Historical Background and Update

More than sixty years ago, Anastasio Somoza, as President of Nicaragua, began the dynastic dictatorship of the Somoza family in Nicaragua in Central America. His only daughter was Liliam Somoza (the subject on the currency) who later married the Nicaraguan (lifelong) Ambassador to Washington D.C., Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa. Liliam's brother, also named Anastasio, was to take over his father's dictatorship. The latter was overthrown in 1979 when the Sandinistas came to power and in September 1980 in exile in Paraguay, was assassinated by a car bomb. His son, named Anastasio like his grandfather and father, is still in exile to this day and lives in Miami. He would like to return to Nicaragua, but because of his own actions as head of security when his father was in power, it seems a visit would not yet be propitious. As for the currency, as of last year when that newspaper story came out, Liliam Somoza's two sons, who do live in Nicaragua, are trying to have the cordoba once more printed with their mother's image. The last time was in 1953. The idea, never a hit with Nicaraguans when it first came out in 1951, does not seem to have gained much popularity since then.

Capt. David Wickenden--Fighting Fire with Fire

Hell Freezes Over
by Capt. David Wickenden, 2000

Pyrography on wood,
approximately 24 inches wide by 18 inches high

After a 1962 photograph of firefighters Richard Wickenden and Arnold Sitko
Image courtesy of the artist

Canadian Capt. David Wickenden of Sudbury, Ontario is enjoying a big year. The very biggest news is that he and his wife Gina are expecting a baby as this article goes to press.

The latest news is that Dave, by vocation for 19 years a firefighter like his father before him, has just been promoted to the rank of captain.

By avocation and to fill the inevitable down time at the firestation, Dave took up bird carving then later pyrographic portraits, landscapes, and wildlifes. His specialty--dramatic works showing firefighters--is the focus of this article.

Dave inherited the famous original photograph, which was the inspiration for his most striking work. It was one entitled "Hell Freezes Over" that shows his father Richard Wickenden and his father's partner Arnold Sitko covered in ice with icicles on their helmets, fighting a night fire in subzero temperatures.

He was granted permission to use it for his work from the photojournalist who took it. The photograph had been deliberately overexposed to heighten the contrast of the dark night and the blaze lighting the icicles and the firefighters' faces. That photograph, which is used by the International Firefighters Association, has been viewed worldwide.

Dave's pyrograph, like the famous photograph that inspired it, was getting a lot of attention, including by Ontario's Government Representative, Honourable Dianne Marleau who was very impressed with Dave's work.

by Capt. David Wickenden, 2001

Pyrography on wood slab,
approximately 9 inches wide by 16 inches high

After a photograph of a firefighter in London, Ontario Image courtesy of the artist

As it turned out, Hon. Marleau opened two very important doors for Dave. She set up an interview for him to show his work to the curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which is located across the river from Ottawa in the city of Hull in Quebec. This is an important new museum in Canada that welcomes about 4000 visitors a day.

Dave put forth his idea for an international pyrography exhibit at the museum to highlight his work, other Canadian work, plus work from artists all over the world. The curator was very receptive to Dave's idea and invited him to submit a written proposal. With Sue Walters of Australia Dave is presently working on that proposal to plan a museum exhibit displaying some of the best pyrographic art work in the world.

They also have an idea to bring public involvement into the exhibit by including polling as part of the experience whereby the viewers can vote for their favorite type of pyrography or favorite artist or work, etc.

Portrait of a Firefighter
by Capt. David Wickenden, 2001

Pyrography on wood slab

After a photograph
Image courtesy of the artist

The portrait above, like his preceding and most recent work "Compassion" and his first work in this series "Hell Freezes Over" show the sophistication of David Wickenden's art. He goes beyond the skill of the gifted craftsman who captures the likeness and captures the story and the emotion in his subjects.

An Official Portrait

Once more Capt. Dave's talents have come to the attention of people in high places. Dave has just received approval to do a pyrographic portrait of Canada's Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Jean Chetien. Dave is looking forward to his first meeting with the Prime Minister.

A one-man show for Dave. The icing on this latest great cake is that a reception is planned for the unveiling of the official portrait, and Hon. Marleau has arranged for Dave to have his other works on display at the reception hall that day available for the guests to purchase. Dave is hoping the Prime Minister himself will open the exhibition.

David Wickenden has branched out enormously in activities related to his pyrographic art work. To start with, he set up his Northern Illusions web site. He has work on paper in an art gallery in his town of Sudbury, and he also shows his burnings on paper at an important Christmas art show (where there are no crafts). He has a table at the Ontario annual show in September, does demonstrations in schools, has taught one class, and plans to do more in the future. He has submitted his resume to Vernon Robinson in the hope of going on his new TV show and will be on a TV talk show soon before the presentation of his official portrait of the Prime Minister.

His advice to anyone with a newly discovered interest in pyrography is simply, "Jump in and try it." He certainly has taken his own advice to heart.

It is with sadness I report that IAPA member Ivan Saunders (Kansas Rancher), woodcarver and pyrographer, from Pleasanton, Kansas, USA, died June 15, 2001.

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 (WOM), started January 1997, and the fourth year of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, which opened its virtual doors 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 Yahoo Groups uniting_pyrographers mailing list, member list, and chat forum set up by IAPA Co-founder Mixo Sydenham of Australia for IAPA members.

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