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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 14, Page One of Three



Page One:
David Kreider: The Story Behind His Art

Page Two:
Diógenes Giorlandino, Decorative Artist

Page Three:
John-Henry Marshall and his Year-Long Pyrography Project
In Memoriam: Rev. Howard Finster, 1916-2001

David Kreider: The Story Behind His Art

Family of Women
by David Kreider

This cross-cultural masterpiece in pyrogravure colorée features women of all ages from across lines of race, creed, and national interest. Represented are Native Americans, African-Americans, the former Soviet Union, the Arab World, Bedouin nomads, Afghanistan and Jordan, Greeks, Jewish holocaust survivors, the women of Nepal and Viet Nam, Eastern Europe, India, Bolivia, and Ireland.

My intention was to portray the unique beauty and dignity of various ethnic groups and races, and to juxtapose persons from across the lines of politics, religion, and national interests that have traditionally divided them, and present them as one family. Central in this piece is a Jewish woman and an Arab woman. Above them is an Afghani girl flanked by an American and a Russian, below them black and white, etc.

Pyrography and color on wood

Image courtesy of the artist

I met American pyro artist David Kreider initially by telephone, and I had the pleasure of meeting him not too much later in person at a show in Chantilly, Virginia a few years ago where he was selling framed, numbered giclée prints of his pyro works. (I noticed while we were talking that they were selling like hot cakes!) From those two brief encounters, I sensed there was a lot to David Kreider yet to discover.

By way of a recent accomplishment, David made a television appearance at the beginning of this year on the Carol Duvall show where he demonstrated his techniques. As in his popular David Kreider E-Museum Salon, on his excellent website David Kreider's Woodburning Studio, his varied works reflect influences like Virginia's seasons and the Shenandoah contrasted with ones from his 'other' life--in what he calls Israel-Palestine.

Once more residing where he was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, David Kreider did not have a typical American child's experience growing up. Soon after he was born, his Mennonite parents set out with him for Israel where they worked as missionaries providing charitable services. His wife Mary Ann had a parallel experience; her parents were likewise missionaries running a hospital in Gaza.

The focus of this article is on the influence not only of the visual but the philosophical and spiritual of David's extraordinary formative years--the years that shaped who he is and what his art is today. Following, in his own words, David recounts for you...

An Uncommon Story

My childhood in Israel from 1953 to 1971 and my marriage to another child of the Middle East from Gaza have done much to color my perspective on the world: on politics and international affairs; on war, peace, and the lessons of history; on religion and ethnic identity; and on life in general.

While Israel-Palestine is not an easy place to grow up, or to make sense of, I feel very fortunate for the experience, and to have found a sense of home and identity somewhere in the incredibly complex mix of stories that make Israel-Palestine what it is.

Remnant of Sheba
by David Kreider, 1987

This unusual woman was an Eritrean refugee and yet claims to be a descendant of the Queen of Sheba. As a child of six after her mother's death, she was orphaned by her father and given over to a life of hard servitude--and often outright slavery and abuse--at the hands of both relatives and royalty. Illiterate and uneducated, she managed by her wits and faith in God to extricate herself from her world and make it to freedom in America. She has recently returned to her country of origin to rediscover her roots and found an orphanage. Her story is told in a book entitled Castaway Pearls.

Pyrography and color on wood

Image courtesy of the artist

Painting a Picture of One Child's Life in the Middle East

While the larger picture was always there, my childhood experiences and memories are far more carefree. I lived my early years--against that darker backdrop and despite the interruptions of several major wars--with a certain childish innocence.

There were neighborhood soccer games, and hide-and-seek games that ranged for miles, escapades from sabbath school into the nearby orange groves and the Yarkon River for swimming, half-barrel rides, and water battles, hideouts and forts high in the eucalyptus groves and adventures à la Mark Twain.

In high school there were varsity basketball and soccer, and more informal football and softball (not Israeli sports) against the American Embassy men; there were cross-country runs in Galilee, three-day marches from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, school plays, and mostly A's; there were travelling choirs, tailgating trucks on the highways on bicycle, swims in the Mediterranean and walks--along the beach, and the cliffs, and the ruins of fortresses and cities dating back to the formative years of the three great faiths for whom this ground is holy.

Jerusalem Son
by David Kreider

This boy silhouetted in the archways in Old City Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa evokes for all of us who identify with this place, a sense of natural kinship and belonging. In a city whose very stones cry out stories of passion and faith, inspiration and meaning, a place to which peoples have been drawn to find their common spiritual identity, this boy is one of us, surrounded by the stones and the stories.

Pyrography on wood

Image courtesy of the artist

Privileged Perspectives

It was a great place to grow up, pregnant with life and with debate, but also intense--as I became more aware--racked with the trauma of conflicting claims and wills, loyalties and mistrust, frustration and desperation, and undercurrents of all kinds.

I actually finished high school in Israel and then college in Virginia convinced I was going to be a medical doctor, committed to working in some delicate trouble spot in the world in a healing way. I had seen enough disillusionment yet signs of hope as well, and I wanted to be part of the hope in some way.

However, I also realized I needed to piece together my own faith--in humanity, in the world, and in whatever Transcendent Reality there was--out of the confusion. Much came together for me over two years after finishing college spent studying world religions, philosophy, ethics, various apologetics and theologies, and in writing a master's thesis: "Beyond the Rumor of Transcendence."

While I found much personal satisfaction and a centering in that last pursuit, I came away feeling I had had enough of academia for a while. I found myself hungry for a more immediate involvement with people and with life.

It was in 1983 after a return trip back to the Middle East--to Cyprus, Israel, and the Gaza Strip--in part to explore our lingering connections there and to visit our parents who were in Israel and Lebanon at the time. It was when we visited Gaza and discovered a Palestinian artist named Nihad Sabassi working in watercolor and woodburning that a very latent interest in art was rekindled for me.

Out of the Desert
by David Kreider

This thinly veiled Bedouin beauty is a rare sight among the nomadic peoples of the Islamic world. Such beauty is jealously guarded by the men in their lives and seldom seen. Here is a woman of both independence and mystery, like a mirage out of the desert.

Pyrography and color on wood

Image courtesy of the artist


I found in art a medium of statement, a universal language that could be cross-cultural and immediate, engaging and personal, direct yet benign.

A Present Past
by David Kreider

This Greek woman lives in the Holy Land's Old City of Jerusalem, a city that has captured the passions and devotion of the three great faiths of the region and their descendent traditions for generations. Her look conjures the imagination to wonder at her life's story and her faith, so telling in her eyes and the lines of her face.

Pyrography and color on wood

Image courtesy of the artist

Why Woodburning?

For me there are several things that come together in the medium of woodburning. In terms of aesthetics, there is a certain symbolism and a spiritual dimension that I find intriguing. I have reflected on this aesthetic-artistic and spiritual dimension on my website's homepage. Beyond that, I would add that I find something primal and elemental about burning wood that puts us in touch with the origins of art, with strong creative forces, and the challenge of taming and directing them to the task of fashioning beauty and function and meaning. Those strong creative forces of heat and fire make for a symbolic parallel for me with life. There is a richness and depth of story and a "refined" quality to having been through fire. And somehow, a burned image on wood seems to convey something of the same.

I also find an added engaging quality in the superimposition of a highly detailed representational work over a more impressionistic layer growing out of the natural qualities of the wood and its grain. One finds oneself looking in wonder at two or three very different levels: one, at the level of technical precision and the accuracies in representation; two, at the level of imaginative abstractions, illusions, impressions, and secondary images in the wood; and three, at intuited messages emanating from the resultant combination.

This is why I am drawn to working on wood rather than paper and other surfaces that have little texture to add to the work. It is also why, although I am powerfully drawn to the warm and dramatic monochromes of burning by itself, I have found an added attraction in color staining, which builds in a subtle gradation of tones and hue on the natural beauty and textures in the wood to add a compelling dimension to the work.

Man at the Bedouin Market
by David Kreider, 1987

This Greek pilgrim to the Holy Land was found in Beersheba's Bedouin Market, the region where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob settled and dug wells. His pensive moment evokes the persona of the patriarchs, prophets, teachers, and disciples whose encounters with God in this place were the beginning of a divine self-disclosure in history that has captured the attention of humankind in search of meaning ever since.

Pyrography and color on wood

Image courtesy of the artist

Further Experimentation

A recent extrapolation of my work in wood and pyrography has been in the area of electronic arts media. While I am still solidly committed to the unique qualities of wood and burning, and to retaining those as common denominators in my work, it has been fascinating to push those qualities even further. Sometimes it may be a mere tweeking in color, and other times I produce completely new works by the layering and manipulation of the components of various original works together.

A Closing Thought

"My first piece, Family of Women, probably best sums up my sentiments about the world and about the Middle East in particular... Despite our differences and our intricately interwoven histories of pain, we are still a family of humanity together, beautiful, and made, I believe, in the image of our Creator. I hope we can somehow rediscover our common bonds as brothers and sisters across these lines that have divided us, to care for each other's wounds and build a better world for our children."

Click here for page two

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