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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 18, Page Three of Three

Pyro Kaleidoscope


Page One:
Adriano Colangelo: Fantasy Themes

Page Two:
José Pelegrina-Vissepo: Indigenous Peoples of the Americas
Diógenes Giorlandino Turns His Talents to Pyrography on Gourds

Page Three:
Vadim Grozavu: Photorealism
Book Review: Gourd Pyrography by Jim Widess
Mystery Corner: Another Ball Hughes Pyrograph?
Mark Hale: From His Workshop

Vadim Grozavu: Photorealism

Portrait of Michael Jordan
by Vadim Grozavu, 2002

Pyrograph on wood panel

Image courtesy of the artist

From the capital city of Chisinau in the small country of Moldova in eastern Europe has emerged a new talent in the person of Vadim Grozavu, a young man who has already mastered the highly prized pyrographic technique of Photorealism.

Photorealism in paintings has always enjoyed admiration from certain groups of people. However, it seems a great many pyro art enthusiasts consider photorealism the ideal in pyrography. Perhaps it is because the very skill of using a pyro tool instead of a paintbrush to achieve such great and precise detail is extraordinary--only a handful of pyrographic artists reach that level of skill. In part, it may also be because the medium is exotic in the art world--it is fascinating to realize that a person could burn an accurate likeness of a subject and at the same time produce what looks like a rich sepia photograph in wood.

by Vadim Grozavu

Pyrographic portrait on wood panel

Image courtesy of the artist

Taught by his dad when he was only a youngster, Vadim Grozavu has been working in this medium since 1986. Since that time, he has done a great number of pieces. One particularly large and impressive pyro work of his, on display in a kind of publicity center in downtown Chisinau, has benefited from a lot of public acclaim. Because his specialty is portraits, most of Vadim's work is done on commission, including, to his credit, the portrait of a young niece of a former president of Moldova.

Vadim has recently achieved his latest goal towards furthering his art career, which was to create an internet presence for himself. Vadim Grozavu's work is featured at the Art Trade International website and now as well in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art

After completing art school, Vadim went on to major in mathematics and computer science at Moldova's university where he graduated in 1998. Although his studies prepared him for a technical profession, his first love is still his pyrographic art. Despite Eastern Europe's depressed economy, Vadim has high hopes that with his pyrographic portraits now on the internet, his future will be brighter. Even so, he has had to take an extra job part time in order to maintain his site at Art Trade International.

Book Review: Gourd Pyrography by Jim Widess

Gourd Pyrography
by Jim Widess

Image courtesy of The Caning Shop

It is apparent that gourd art is big and getting bigger. Burning designs and rich textures onto a curved gourd surface is a very old tradition. For the pyro artist, the challenge of burning on the curves and with the irregularities is intriguing. Not only growing numbers of new enthusiasts are discovering this exotic sculptural art form, but pyro artists already expert in working on other materials are looking to gourd art to add dimension to their own artistic experience.

His past books have taught us to expect Jim Widess of The Caning Shop (www.caning.com) to offer substantial content, extensive research, valuable instruction, and beautiful presentation.

High expectations for his latest offering--Gourd Pyrography--will be more than rewarded. For pyro art enthusiasts, this exclusively pyro book has great appeal. It is a lovely, 144-page, hardcover book that would be worth getting if only as a coffee-table art book. It is lavishly illustrated with 444 high quality color photographs of greatly varied works by more than fifty gourd artists. The introductory chapter alone is fascinating. It shows traditional pieces from countries of Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific and how artists in those countries work in various unusual pyro techniques using basic, even primitive tools (proving once again that ultimately it is still the hand of the artist that makes the difference. . .).

That Gourd Pyrography also includes step-by-step photographic instructions from prominent gourd artists and a special reference section with 74 color photographs of individual pyrographic tool tips makes it a book that is hard to resist. And why should you? Go ahead--enjoy, admire, ooh, ah . . . and emulate!

Mystery Corner:
Another Ball Hughes Pyrograph?

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

History of the Three Versions of The Three Witches

In this segment you are going to see three images: the first is a drawing done in 1896. Because in those days people illustrated articles with drawings rather than photographic reproductions, the drawing is not a picture or photograph of the Hughes pyrograph but a pen and ink drawing of it. The third image is the actual image (i.e., from a photo) of the supposed Ball Hughes pyrograph from 1862. The middle image is here as reference. It is the oldest of the three since it dates back to the 1700s. It is the painting by another artist named Fuseli that inspired Ball Hughes to do his pyrograph, which in turn was later illustrated in Fosdick's article by means of a drawing.

The drawing above, according to the original caption in Fosdick's article, states that the Ball Hughes pyrograph is after a painting by Fuseli. It also indicates that Fosdick himself was the owner of the pyrograph. Because it is only a drawing and not a photo, it can only give us an idea of what the Hughes pyrograph looked like.

A year ago when I was researching Fosdick's article, I remember thinking about that drawing and wondering what might have happened to the actual pyrograph that Fosdick owned a hundred years ago. Needless to say, when I recently received an e-mail, and a pyro image of The Witches of MacBeth started appearing on my screen, the only word that came to mind was "BINGO!"

The Three Witches
Original 18th century painting by Johann Heinrich Fuseli (aka Fussli)

Painting inspired by the "Three Weird Sisters" in Shakespeare's play Macbeth

Reference for the Fuseli painting and story

The original Fuseli painting immediately above, was also, as the title for the Ball Hughes piece suggests, inspired by another work--the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Fuseli's witches were Shakespeare's Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth.

The pyrograph below is the third image and a bit of a mystery. It certainly seems likely it is the original Ball Hughes pyrograph that was illustrated by that drawing in Fosdick's article. But there is not as yet proof positive.

The Witches of Macbeth
Thought to be by Ball Hughes
This mid 19th century pyrograph was after the 18th century painting by Fuseli

Image courtesy of David Plunton

Clues and Questions

Ball Hughes was a well known artist in his time, primarily a sculptor and an engraver. As we have seen with previous Ball Hughes pyrographs, however, they are not his original designs but rather his pyrographic renderings of famous paintings by others. This is the first difficulty in defining what a Ball Hughes pyrograph should look like: There is no one style that is identifiable in his pyrographs. In addition, as you have seen in the image above, the pyrograph is not in pristine condition, making it therefore much more difficult to appreciate.

The present owners, David and Debbie Plunton, have had this pyrograph for about ten years. They know the previous two owners--a Games Master at Winchester College in England by the name of Jim Crosby and afterwards, his daughter Miss Dorothy Crosby who is now almost 90 years old. Miss Crosby, a lifelong family friend, gave it to David Plunton about ten years ago.

Fosdick's article names himself as the owner of the piece at the end of the nineteenth century. But as yet, assuming this one is the same one, it is unknown when Fosdick stopped owning it and who, if anyone, owned it until it came into the hands of Jim Crosby of Winchester (who wrote his name on the back).

Ball Hughes was an Englishman who settled in Massachusetts where he made his other pyrographs. When Fosdick owned the piece, presumably it was in the United States. However, the Crosby family and the Pluntons live in England. The Pluntons conjecture that since Winchester College is a famous English Public School where many famous people (British and also American) attended, it is possible the pyrograph made its way across the Atlantic along with an American pupil.

David Plunton mentioned one more clue indicating their pyrograph could be authentic:
"The pyrograph has been examined by an acquaintance Christoff Gotting, who renovates Stradivarius violins. Although he is not an art specialist, he is an expert in varnish. I thought he might perhaps be able to shed some light on its age. I started by telling him that we believed it to be around 18th century and he said something very interesting, although I didn't take much notice of it at the time. He said that even if the panel was 18th century, the varnish certainly wasn't, it was more modern around mid nineteenth century. He explained that if you look at the piece of varnish that has chipped off just to the right of the bottom left hand corner, it is typical of a varnish from this period. An 18th century or earlier varnish doesn't chip in this way, it wears gradually."

This piece will be placed with the other Ball Hughes pieces in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art

Nevertheless, the last question remains: Why did Ball Hughes not burn the title, his name, the date, and the place on the back of this piece, as he had burned in so carefully on his other works?

Mark Hale: From His Workshop

Two Boxes

Decoration and boxes by Mark D. Hale

Pyrography and color on wood boxes made by the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

Like Vadim Grozavu, American woodworker and pyro artist Mark D. Hale of Solsberry, Indiana is another artist who is hoping his internet presence will make the difference. His works are on line in his own website called Mark's Workshop.

4" by 4" unfinished box

by Mark D. Hale

5" by 5" unfinished box

by Mark D. Hale

Mark's Workshop

In Mark's case, he does principally woodworking. His specialty and now his only offering is boxes. His basswood boxes are beautifully crafted and known for their fine finish (his trade secret). He sells many like that, but--pyro artists take note!--now Mark is also offering his basswood boxes unfinished for others who like to decorate boxes with pyrography, carving, or painting. So spread the word!

Since trying out wood burning a couple of years ago as a hobby, Mark decided to add decorative designs on some of his boxes. He tells about his start in pyrography like this: "I thought it might be nice on my boxes and I don't heat my workshop in the winter months, so last winter I sat at my kitchen table doing wood burning."

The results of these efforts can be appreciated in the handsome examples you see here--examples you would find worthy of any fine woodworker and pyrographic artist of decorative art, and astounding once you learn that Mark Hale is legally blind.

Mark Hale in His Workshop

Image courtesy of the artist

Here is Mark's explanation in his own words:

"I have almost no vision at all in my left eye and my right eye has a disease called toxoplasmosis. This was diagnosed when I was about 14 and over time it causes scars to form inside the eye.

So now I am 49, can no longer see to drive, and do woodworking in my garage workshop. I use magnifiers, flood lamps on adjustable stands and prescription magnifing glasses for seeing detail. My vision is like looking through an aquarium with dirty water in it with a very dark mass of scars that float through my field of vision."

I have not been able to support myself from my woodworking though. At this time, my woodworking is a supplement to a disability income, but I would very much like to find a way to support myself from my craft. It takes me longer to do the work now.

I had to give up driving in 1987. I really miss being able to drive and that has made marketing my work difficult. Right now my work is at an art center in Pennsylvania on consignment. I bought a computer 3 years ago, hoping that the Internet was a way for me to accomplish that goal by getting more exposure.

Ivy Box

Decoration and box by Mark D. Hale

Pyrography and color on a wood box made by the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

A New Calling

When I first heard from Mark in an email, my eyes opened wide in disbelief and I thought to myself (out loud), "Now, that's one I never expected to get!" Well, in a matter of only days, I was flabbergasted to hear from still another blind person--Ken Thomas in Australia--looking to get started in pyrography. The cause of Ken's vision problems is totally distinct from Mark's. Therefore, the adaptations and solutions he will require for his new task will be distinct. Nevertheless, he finished his own remarkable story and concluded by saying, "I would like to meet other handicapped pyrographers as we all understand each other better than sighted people."

So, Mark, now that you're the expert and have shown that it can be done, it looks as though you have a new calling and one that is most likely unexpected (although maybe not) --as a mentor.

At any rate, I think you've given us all a lesson in courage.

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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 is the sixth year of articles on pyrography for the Woodcarver Online Magazine (WOM), started January 1997, and the fifth 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.

2002, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.