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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 25, Page One of Three


Page One:
Adri and Cassie Pretorius: On a Lifelong Safari Together

Page Two:
Peni and Lee Powell: Displaying Their Flemish Art Collection

Page Three:
Introducing New IAPA Members:
- Stefano Bonfatti: Photorealism
- Pierre Doré: Decorative Interpretations
- Lestat de Lioncourt: Fantasy
News from Old Friends:
- Michael Janson: Who's Who in Russia
- Houba: New Works for Two Exhibits in 2003
- Dino: Featured in an Interior Design Magazine
- Alejandro and Gabriela: New Horizons for Another Great Couple

Adri and Cassie Pretorius:
On a Lifelong Safari Together

Pair of Black Rhinoceros
by Cassie Pretorius

Pyrography on leather

Image courtesy of the artists

Their Personal Safari Begins

The husband-and-wife team of pyrographic artists, Casper ("Cassie") and Adri Pretorius are both from the Kalahari Region of South Africa--"born and bred there of families that have been there for generations." They have been working together for about eight years, ever since they met when Cassie, who has been involved in this art form for more than 23 years, introduced Adri to it.

The leather pyroengraving above is of a pair of black rhinos by Cassie. Rhinos and elephants are his favorite subjects, according to Adri. "He has a stronger hand than I have," she says, "and does really well on the loud contrasts of the rough-skinned animals. He also enjoys working on wood."

Cassie is a self-taught artist. His interest in pyrography was first sparked in a woodworking class in high school. In the early 1970's, he attended a national trade fair in Johannesburg where he saw a Namibian artist burning on leather, and another spark of interest was ignited.

Adri, who studied art, was mainly working in acrylic paints when she met Cassie. Having never been exposed to pyrographic art, she had never even considered using heat to create art until she met him.

by Cassie and Adri Pretorius

Pyrography on warthog leather

Image courtesy of the artists


It is not an easy thing for a couple to work together in the same business, especially in a tenuous business like selling their own art. In most families, where one spouse is an artist, the family income is usually sustained with the income of a spouse with a regular paycheck. Often in such cases, the artist is free to dedicate himself or herself exclusively to art because the spouse not only lends moral and financial support but serves as business manager for the artist as well.

Cassie and Adri, along with couples featured on the virtual pages of WOM in the past, such as José and Enith Pelegrina, Alejandro Veneziani and his wife Gabriela Lezcano (see page 3 of this issue for an update on them), and Linda and Opie O'Brien, are to be admired all for their determination, perseverance, and spunk.

The SAFARI theme is an easy choice for artists in South Africa like Cassie and Adri. The safari look is popular with tourists, and the handsome pieces look wonderful on the walls of South African game lodges and farms, as well as on the walls of hunting lodges in European décor.

Adri says, "We work very well together--acting as critic for each other's works and we use each other as a sounding board for things like composition and lay-out. It works out pretty well, because we can both spot each other's mistakes and quite often work on bits of each other's work to bring out or hide certain things. We also co-operate on the larger scaled works--one does the animal and the other does the background."

"Cassie is a lot better business person than I am. If it weren't for him," she adds with a wink, "I guess I would end up giving my stuff away."

More Adventures

Together, the intrepid pair traveled Africa south of the Equator fairly extensively for some years, and even stayed in Zimbabwe for a few of those years. They worked in pyrography there and exhibited at fairs and international trade shows around the country.

In Memory of a Beloved Elephant
by Adri and Cassie Pretorius

Pyrographic portrait on an elephant ear

Image courtesy of the artists

A Rare Elephant Portrait

The elephant (above), Cassie recounts, "is a commissioned piece done for a game park owner when one of his ele's died. The artwork was done on the (leather) elephant ear (the ear of the elephant that had died) as a memorial. (The ear was about 5 feet 6 inches tall.)"

Knowing that everyone is fascinated with elephants, I asked them to tell me more about the elephants they've encountered in their work and travels. They say that Elephant Camp Safaris near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe allow visitors to ride a few bush trails on the backs of tame African elephants.

Cassie and Adri, however, prefer to rough it on their own photo safaris, and often camp in tents in the wild. They explained that wild elephants are so quiet you can be within a few feet of a herd in the bush and not even be aware of them until their stomachs rumble! In Cassie's case, there is another signal: being near elephants makes him sneeze!

Cassie and Adri Pretorius Working Together
Exhibiting at the Harare International Trade Fair in Zimbabwe

Image courtesy of the artists

Technical Aspects

Tools and supplies. Cassie and Adri work primarily with a 40-Watt Weller iron with a tip filed to a chisel and without benefit of temperature control. The unusually long metal tip (as can be observed in the picture above) means the artist's hand is very far from the work when he or she is burning.

They acquired a wire-tipped, temperature-controlled pyro tool, but quickly went back to their familiar "old Weller" for the bulk of their works. The wire-tipped tool comes in handy for works with lettering and works on smaller than their usual scale.

A china marker (also called a grease pencil or wax pencil) is used for lightly sketching the design and layout on the leather before burning, and an ArtGum eraser is effective for removing those lines later. When they work on leather, they use a sanding block to clean the burner tip. There is a larger carbon build-up on the burner tip compared to burning on wood. The main difference between burning on wood and leather is that some mistakes can be sanded away on the wood. Leather is not as forgiving and leaves no room for error.

Cassie is an accomplished woodworker who along with his other projects makes the rustic style frames for their leather pieces.

Color. The range of colors in most of the couple's work is solely the result of heat reactions and the angle and attitude of the burning tool. On the rare occasion when they do use color, it is done by adding acrylic washes on the leather or by using colored pencils on the paper.

Sizes. The smallest pieces they've worked on have been about a square foot in size. Average pieces for them range around 4 feet. The elephant ears--at 5-1/2 ft tall--are the largest pieces they've done.

Leather considerations. Cassie and Adri use only high-grade, vegetable-tanned hides (also called oak-tanned or harness leather). They generally use cowhide (with the notable exceptions of game skins and elephant ears, as seen in two examples above). They avoid using the shoulders, which have "lines on them caused by the way the skin fits around the cow." They prefer instead the sides, which are "best for burning on since they are nice and clear of scratches, wrinkles, and brands."

Adri explains that the thickness of leather is gauged in pound increments: the higher the number, the thicker the leather. She says, "We regularly use 5-6 or 6-7 weight leather (anything thinner, that is, under a 5 weight, would curl when we burn on it)." Keep in mind that Cassie and Adri work on very large subjects and leather pieces; furthermore, they do NOT work with a temperature-controlled tool, which might give them more options in this regard.

Adri advises "Stretching the leather might cause the burnt areas on a picture to crack. The weights of leather we use for our works are still flexible enough to be strung to a frame. The thongs we use for that get cut from the leftover pieces of leather. They are strong enough to handle some tension but still thin enough to be flexible."

by Adri and Cassie Pretorius

Pyrography on paper

Image courtesy of the artists

On to New Adventures on a New Continent

The New World. About five years ago, our intrepid pair decided to venture forth once more--this time beyond their beloved continent to see what life was like across the Atlantic. They are now making the United States their home and have been living in the small town of Pine Mountain in the State of Georgia, about an hour south of bustling Atlanta.

The lush green vegetation and forests of Georgia are in marked contrast to the arid climates--including the Kalahari Desert!--that they had left behind. They settled into their peaceful little town and started a business of manufacturing and installing granite and marble counter tops and tiles in order to make a living, while on the side trying to establish an art market for their leather burnings.

In the early days while they were traveling and visiting in California, they participated in a couple of "Art in the Park" exhibitions in Morro Bay. Adri recounted that consensus among the artsy establishment was that their pyrography was an overpriced craft rather than an attempt at producing fine art. The same sentiment was prevalent in Africa--and their works were constantly referred to as curios. Not a very encouraging reaction, to say the least. They believe this sentiment is mainly because people are not used to pyrography as an art technique; it is something that Cassie and Adri try to rectify every time they have an exhibition.

Experimenting on paper. They joined IAPA and were inspired by the creativity and originality of the group's members. They decided to try things some of the other members were doing, and produced some very successful works on paper--two of which are shown here.

Trying a favorite North American animal. They have found America to be a rich source of images and subjects ideally suited to pyrography. The wolf is a favorite subject of people commissioning works from the couple, but Adri's favorite North American subject yet was a portrait of an Indian chief, done for a client in California.

Wolf, detail
by Adri and Cassie Pretorius

Pyrography on paper

Image courtesy of the artists

The Next Adventure in Their Safari: An Unexpected Twist

Rottweiler, detail
by Adri and Cassie Pretorius

Pyrography on leather

Image courtesy of the artists

From Wild to Domesticated Animals--And Life on a Ranch!

As this article goes to press, our adventurous pair has once more bravely sallied forth in search of their niche in the art world. They have recently sold their house and counter-top business in Georgia and plan to settle in Florida where they have bought a ranch near Cedar Key.

They are very enthused about the future. Adri says that their neighbors have cows, and that their own ranch has woods on one side, lots of trees all around, and horses in back. From now on, their art work will reflect their new surroundings and the horses that will be their specialty.

Arabian Stallion
by Adri and Cassie Pretorius

Pyrography on leather

Image courtesy of the artists

New Goals

In contrast to their situation in Georgia, where their counter-top installation business was their primary source of income and their art work a sideline, in Florida, Cassie and Adri Pretorius plan to once more focus primarily on their art--including doing a book on burning on leather--in the hope their art will prove their principal source of income, and any other activities will supplement that.

The art community in the city of Ocala, Florida, only 45 miles east of their ranch at Cedar Key is already beckoning them. Adri says, "We feel very alive there."

Final Notes and References

View more pieces of Adri and Cassie's work on line in the Adri and Casper Pretorius Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

They have recently acquired a new website address of pyrographer.com where they will soon be exhibiting their works. For the time being, visit their website at www.art-by-fire.com to see their art work, and don't miss the fascinating bio of their life and travels. Another site displaying and selling their work is Hunt Art.

Click here to go to page two>>>

2003, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.