Woodcarver Ezine
Back Issues
Carvers' Companion Gateway


by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 14, Page Three 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

John-Henry Marshall
His Year-Long Pyrography Project

August 2001
by John-Henry Marshall, 2001

Pyrography on assorted woods

Image courtesy of the artist

Although new to pyrography, artist John-Henry Marshall has been working daily in this medium and has produced over 250 original pieces since April. Before then, however, his work had been primarily with paint. His credentials as a 'painting' artist include a solo show in Chicago in April of this year and participation in more than 15 group shows starting even before he got his BFA in 1998 from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Pyrography Project

In May he began a sabbatical from painting to pursue a pyrographic project he plans to take at least one year to complete. (Look for more on his project as it progresses in the John-Henry Marshall Salon in the E-Museum.) Here is how John-Henry describes his new endeavor:

I have 365 blocks of various woods all cut to the same dimensions. All the wood for this project is second-hand, having been recycled from numerous dumpsters throughout The Field Museum in Chicago where I currently am employed as a carpenter in the Exhibits Department. I woodburn an original design or image each and every day and put that day's date on the back. When a whole month has come to a close, I reassemble the individual blocks, in chronological order, to form a visual "calendar" of that month. When 12 consecutive monthly calendars have been completed, I plan to display them all in one room where the viewer can literally "walk into a year of art."

Post Script

Now that John-Henry has enough calendars completed to use as visual examples, he plans to start searching for a gallery or museum in which to display his project. He would like to find a space there in Chicago but is also interested in the possibility of "traveling the project." Of how all of this came about, he says:

"I had previously received a woodburning kit as a gift. I decided to try burning pieces of scrap wood, and the rest, as they say, is history. I first began thinking about it as a way to "sketch" my ideas because I had not been drawing very regularly in my sketchbook. The plan was to discipline myself to do one piece a day. As the pieces piled up on the floor, I would line them up and began thinking about time (how valuable is time, how do we measure time, what are the limitations of time, and so forth). The project began to evolve.

I am still discovering and experimenting with new techniques. There is a richness pyrography can provide that cannot be matched with paint. Being a carpenter and wanting to recycle wood were not necessarily my inspiration for this project, but in hindsight make perfect sense and explain why pyrography should feel so comfortable and natural to me."

In Memoriam: Rev. Howard Finster,
born December 2, 1916, died October 22, 2001

Rev. Howard Finster

Featured in the third ever issue of the WOM was the article
Pyrography: Folk Art, An Interview with the
Rev. Howard Finster

"One night I asked what I had preached on that morning and everybody forgot my message.
And that's why I decided to build my garden, so they can't forget."

An "American Original" Dies at Age 84

When I first started my series of articles for the Woodcarvers Online Magazine (WOM) back in January 1997, I decided I would select my topics for articles based on the medium rather than specific artists, and then choose artists who would exemplify the selected topic. Thus it was that when I chose Pyrography as Folk Art for the third article, I knew who the perfect choice was to exemplify it, thanks to a book I had run across some time before: J. F. Turner's 1989 book entitled Howard Finster Man of Visions: The Life and Work of a Self-Taught Artist.

Who better to exemplify folk art pyrography than a man who had become an American folk art legend in his own lifetime? The pyrographic aspect of the Rev. Howard Finster's body of work has essentially gone unnoticed (of course, in general, folk artists are not studied for their technique or their medium anyway). However, although J. F. Turner likewise ignored the pyrographic aspect, he did choose many of the best Finster works to illustrate his book, and did conscientiously list any and all media employed in those pieces in the captions of those illustrations. Fortunately, several of those pieces were fine examples of works with pyrography, including the Rev. Finster's wood construction sculpture featured on the back cover of the book.

At that time, I was most privileged to speak to Howard Finster by telephone on a Sunday when he was seeing visitors in his Paradise Garden. Ours was his first ever interview about his pyrography. He was delightful. I was hopeful of one day getting to meet him in person and tour his amazing garden, but even then I feared that telephone conversation might be our last encounter.

At this time, however, I am most pleased to write that J. F. Turner has given permission to use an image of one of Howard Finster's pyro paintings from his book.

He Is the Lily of the Valley, partial view
by Howard Finster, ca. 1977, No. 1000 29

Pyrography and enamel on wood panel
Pyrography decorating wood frame
63 by 25-1/4 in.

(Jeff Gold. Photo: Norinne Betjemann)

Scanned image shown here with permission of J. F. Turner, author
>From his book entitled
Howard Finster Man of Visions: The Life and Work of a Self-Taught Artist
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989

Callings and Visions

Rev. Finster felt the call to be a preacher and started preaching while still in his teenage years. A man of enormous energy, he made his living in various ways, but always left Sunday for his preaching. Woodburning was there from early on, too. Long before the vision he had in 1976 calling him to do sacred art, as an added source of income he used woodburning to decorate clocks he made from scraps of wood.

The motivation for his sacred art was to find a better means to reach people--a sort of permanent sermon for an extended congregation. A hallmark of his paintings was the writings on them, the things he might have said when preaching to his congregation, such as his attention-getting "Hell is a hell of a place."

Clock, detail
by Howard Finster

Pyrography decorating wood clock

Clock, another example
by Howard Finster

Pyrography decorating wood clock

Angela Usrey Gallery

Larger Than Life Accomplishments

Rev. Finster was about sixty years old when he got his vision to paint, so he didn't even start until his later years--yet this prolific artist managed to turn out over 45,000 signed and numbered art works!

Despite only six years of schooling, this colorful character managed to become world famous. His exposure grew enormously when his sermonizing sacred art works were solicited for the covers of two music albums--one for The Talking Dead and another for R.E.M. Howard's curious renderings of his beloved Santa Claus became illustrations in a Christmas book for children.

All Roads One Road Headed the Same Way
By Howard Finster, 1978

Enamel on wood
Wood frame decorated in pyrography by the artist

University of Virginia

The Coca Cola Company (some say that coffee and Coke were in part the energy behind this indefatigable artist) sponsored a special exhibit of Howard's work at the High Museum when the Olympic Games came to Atlanta, Georgia in recent years. The High Museum and many other museums in America and other parts of the world have permanent collections of the folk artist's works as well. Not too long after Elvis Presley died, while others were claiming sightings of the King of Rock and Roll still alive, Howard claimed to have had a vision of Elvis right there in his Paradise Garden. I remember seeing a documentary piece on TV in which Howard Finster appeared sitting in his Paradise Garden talking about his vision of Elvis and indicating to the reporter where he had seen Elvis appear. Howard did many renderings of Elvis in his art work and spoke about him in his sermons and speeches.

Rev. Finster appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, and had a U.S. postage stamp printed to honor him.

Probably his most satisfying honor in his old age was the large number of visitors who came each Sunday to his folk art Paradise Garden to meet him and talk with him.

He was unique. He will be greatly missed.

Rev. Howard Finster

References and Recommended Reading

J. F. Turner's book entitled Howard Finster Man of Visions: The Life and Work of a Self-Taught Artist (ISBN 0-394-57961-5, Published in 1989 in the USA by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Ltd., Toronto, Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York, USA).

The May-June 1997 issue of the WOM Pyrography: Folk Art, An Interview with the Rev. Howard Finster.

The Rev. Howard Finster Salon in the Traditional and Folk Art Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

The University of Virginia website has an excellent tour on Howard's art and life, which starts with George Washington! It also shows the Talking Heads album cover. (No major pyrographic works by Howard are featured here; however, there are two with pyroengraved frames, of which one is shown above.) It features many quotes from J. F. Turner's book and others. Well worth reading.

Here is a link to highlights of the PBS Obituary, which aired recently on television.

Not at all pyro, but a great site for viewing shots of Howard's Paradise Garden

Very nice personal account by Doc Lawrence, friend of Howard's who is presently writing a musical play about him.

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, this issue marks the completion 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.