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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 27, Page Three of Three


Page One:
Kathleen Marie Wilson: Drawing from Nature

Page Two:
Peter Drewett: His Art and Story, part one

Page Three:
Peter Drewett: His Art and Story, part two
Ilanna Mandel: Peace Offerings

Peter Drewett: His Art and Story, part two

Peter Drewett Posing with Pole and Drum

Pyrography on wood pole and drum

Image courtesy of the artist

Technical Aspects

Tools. As we have seen, for his first attempt at burned art on a piece of mulga wood he had found, Peter worked with wire from fireworks sparklers. He later tried out a solid tip (soldering iron type) burning tool but decided he liked branding with a hot wire and nail heads better because, as he said, that method suited the hard woods he was working on and the graphics that were evolving in his work. To pyroengrave the drum and most other pieces of this type, he heated the wire and nails on his propane gas stove.

After some experimentation, Peter says he finally borrowed Stephen Poole's book on pyrography from the library and knew then he had to have a hot-wire, transformer-type tool with variable temperature control, so he got himself an Iron Core [Australian] pyrotool. Of that decision, he says, "From there, I haven't looked back. The speed and accuracy it enabled increased my productivity, options, and creativity, although it's not as dramatic, heavy, thick, deep, or 'in ya face' as the propane-heated wire and nail work (I still use that method for very heavy outline or graphic effect). But I haven't picked up the soldering iron unit for nearly two years."

Didgeridoo, view showing detail of the pyroengraving
by Peter Drewett

Didgeridoo is carved from mallee wood hollowed out by termites
and decorated in pyroengraving--
one of the first pieces Peter did with his Iron Core tool

Image courtesy of the artist

Other 'tools' that come into play are assists from nature, like lightning and the termites, which Peter terms his 'Michelangelos and Leonardos,' that shaped and hollowed the pieces that became the didgeridoo and the drum called the Animistic Caller; another was the basic shape of the piece he calls Free Form that was produced from a natural defect in a piece of Eucalyptus discovered while he was splitting firewood. Free Form can be viewed in the Peter Drewett E-Museum Salon linked here.

Safety Issues. Peter deliberately avoids using plywood or any other material that uses adhesives that may have toxins, which could release on burning and are considered quite carcinogenic. In addition, he is most interested in researching any toxicity caused by smoke from different wood species or other organic materials used for pyrography. He notes that smoke from gourds is an extreme irritant to his eyes and lungs, so he uses an exhaust fan when working.


Little Girl
Holding "Animistic Caller" Drum by Peter Drewett

Drum is carved from wood hollowed out by termites
and is decorated in pyroengraving

Image courtesy of the artist

Another important activity that Peter has developed along with his art work is working on community projects with teenagers. In the first image at the top of this page is a pole that is part of one such project he is working on at present. Because this project is a large one and a work still in progress, and because teaching adults, teenagers, and even some younger children has become such a significant part of his recent activities, there will be a Part Three segment of his Art and Story dedicated to covering these aspects here in a future issue of the WOM.

Animistic Caller
by Peter Drewett, 2001

Pyroengraving on wood drum
made from a branch section of spotted gum eucalyptus
hollowed by termites
(or white ants as they are known in Australia)

Image courtesy of the artist

The Animistic Caller

Shown in three of the four images above is an exotic percussive instrument Peter created, which he refers to as the Animistic Caller. It is shown in the second image with the cute little girl to offer a slightly different view of it, give an idea of its relative size, and show more of the detail of the pyroengraving. The third image offers still another view, demonstrates how it is held to be played, and shows the club-like drum stick.

This remarkable instrument "can be played inside or out," Peter explains. "It has a huge range of tones and is very loud. It can be played with a club-like drum stick or with a padded stick or with hands and gives quite loud multiple tones, depending both on where it is hit and with what. It is quite robust. In addition, the snake-like arm can itself be played with a thick bamboo skewer for a Latin American music, scraper-like [guiro] effect."

Peter Drewett does not claim to be the only artist who worked on the Animistic Caller--he gives Mother Nature some credit, too. First, the branch section of wood he used to make it came from a gum eucalyptus tree, which was felled by lightning. Over time it was hollowed by termites, which are known in Australia as white ants. Peter thinks of them as master carvers--his "Michelangelos and Leonardos"--setting the stage for the work that he was to do later to create this functional work of sculptural pyrographic art.

The pyroengraved decoration Peter achieved by heating coathanger wire to burn in the lines, and nail heads to brand the dots. To heat the wire and nails, he used the propane gas flame of his cooking stove.

"I don't know how long it took for me to do the Animistic Caller." Peter reminisces, "It kinda just happened. I heated wire while cooking on my propane gas stove and started working on it, put it down for a few weeks, then got a brainstorm idea for it and worked on it again for a while, put it down, and repeated the process 'til one day it was finished. . ."

Peter said that it was this piece that got noticed on display in South Grafton at The Emporium, a wonderful old historic building there that boasts a coffee shop and is a general meeting place and venue for many talented local artists of all variety and media, as well as for dealers of old wares. One important person who noticed the Animistic Caller there at the Emporium was Joan Kerr.


Two Eels
by Peter Drewett

Pyrography on poinciana seed pods

Image courtesy of the artist

More Musical Instruments

Poinciana seed pods come from a tree that is grown locally by the shire council as an ornamental flowering street tree. Peter pyroengraves them either with or without the darker outer coating, depending on the effect he is looking for.

Peter pyroengraved the eels above on poinciana seed pods after removing the dark outer coating. They are two of some sixty pods that were commissioned for a gallery that wanted them done with either an eel or fish look for a project organized in collaboration with a local college.

The goal was for interactive music art sessions with participating music teachers and children, who would use the eel and fish seed pods as shakers or rattles. Since no two are exactly alike, the large number of seed pod rattles could produce a range of varied tones.

Siamese Fish
by Peter Drewett

Pyrography and colored ink on poinciana seed pod

Image courtesy of the artist

Siamese Fish, detail
by Peter Drewett

Pyrography and colored ink on poinciana seed pod

Image courtesy of the artist

Adding Color

Using colored ink to enhance the pyroengraving, Peter made the colorful Siamese Fighting Fish above from seed pods as well. He finished the seed pods with clear polyurethane. In the detailed image can be appreciated the care and skill that Peter put into this project, and his talent for pattern and decoration.

Peter enjoys making the seed pods into percussion instruments, and says, "I love my work to have a function as well as artistic appeal, as it makes art more accessible to all."


Peter's musical inclinations resurfaced yet again when he had an opportunity to try pyroengraving on gourds: His first attempts were inspired from maracas, typical percussion instruments of Latin America. Images of one of Peter's maracas can be viewed in the Peter Drewett E-Museum Salon linked here.

Unfoundlands, Detail
On Display at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
by Peter Drewett, 2003

Pyroengraving on gourds

Image courtesy of the artist

An Unexpected Commission

Joan Kerr is an art historian from Sydney University. She had admired pokerwork while in Europe and came upon Peter Drewett's Animistic Caller there in South Grafton at the Emporium's art exhibition. She found Peter's work, especially that drum, so extremely yet wonderfully different from what she had encountered before, that she in turn put Peter in touch with Peter Fay, an art collector and dealer in Sydney.

Peter says that he presented a complete range of his work, and Peter Fay selected those pieces of greatest interest, which he purchased on the spot all the while offering 'endless encouragement', much to his delight. And to his surprise, in addition, he commissioned him to do a piece using gourds (Peter had only done four gourds up to that point). Besides asking him to use gourds for the commissioned piece, Peter Fay left him with only a vague idea of what he was to portray. Ultimately, he left him with only one key word: SUBTLE.

On Display at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
by Peter Drewett, 2003

Pyroengraving on six gourds, measuring (in centimeters):
38 by 9, 37 by 9.2, 32 by 8.5, 31 by 9.5, 27 by 8.5, and 20 by 6

Image courtesy of the artist

Subtle Recollections

"The key word was subtle--not quite what I'm known for," laughs Peter.

"I went home," he continues, "and, never having had such an important commission, procrastinated over how to achieve what this man would be happy with."

Gourds themselves have so many subtle colors, tones, and shapes, he thought, and patterns, too, depending on the conditions in which they've dried. Peter observed the patterns on his teardrop-shaped gourds. They were water spots produced no doubt by fungi or mould in the drying process and he found them an inspiration in themselves.

On Display at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
by Peter Drewett, 2003

Pyroengraving on gourds

Image courtesy of the artist

Foray into the Art World

Pressure increased when a telephone call came from Peter Fay telling Peter he had already included the sight-unseen, yet-to-be-completed commissioned art work in an important special exhibition called "Home Sweet Home" at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the nation's capital.

With two months to complete the work, Peter began by finding inspiration in the minute detail of the gourds' patterns and deciding he did not want to change that but only enhance its natural beauty. His stock of gourds was all of the same teardrop-shaped type, so he chose six of them and set to work using a headset with magnifying lenses and his Iron Core tool. With very fine points he burned around the natural pattern on the gourds, adjusting the heat settings on his pyrotool to match his outline to the light or dark of the existing water spot patterns to produce what look like ancient sepia maps. After many sleepless nights, he completed Unfoundlands by the deadline.

The gourds were suspended from the ceiling and in a corner with a monofilament fishing line of a similar color. Peter likes that he can change the composition of the gourds simply by varying the lengths of the fishing line, and, because they are mounted to tiny fishing swivels, that a small breeze will slowly rotate them thereby constantly revealing new aspects. Lighting is one more element that can be added to create different effects.

Not Only Subtle--But Sublime

Evidently Peter Fay's blind trust in Peter's ability was well founded. Here is what Russell Smith, art reviewer for Muse, a Canberra arts magazine, had to say in the October 2003 issue about Peter's pyro work of gourds at the "Home Sweet Home" exhibit:

"One of my favourite works was Unfoundlands by Peter Drewett, who moved from carving wooden crocodiles ["carving, yes; crocodiles, no." Peter interjects with a chuckle] to making delicate traceries with hot pokerwork on polished gourds, following the outlines of natural discolorations to produce an effect like faded, watermarked eighteenth-century maps. Suspended from the ceiling in a loose cluster, these swollen forms, with their tattooed, map-like surfaces, revolve slowly like molten imaginary planets waiting to come into being. Sublime."

References and Items of Interest

Visit the Peter Drewett Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

Peter Drewett's work is on display at an important special exhibition called "Home Sweet Home," which is being held from 11 October 2003 to 18 January 2004 at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the nation's capital. After closing in Canberra, the exhibit is expected to travel internationally.

Write to Peter Drewett at peterdruid@yahoo.com.au.

Ilanna Mandel: Peace Offerings

Holocaust Memorial
by Ilanna Sharon Mandel

Pyrography and color on wood plaque

Image courtesy of the artist

Making a Difference

Last November, Ilanna Mandel wrote to tell me that over the weekend, a Holocaust Memorial in Indiana had been torched by an arsonist. I, too, had heard that news and was appalled that these types of incidents still occur in our society. However, here is what Ilanna actually DID in response to that news:

She wrote, "I immediately contacted the woman who runs the museum and offered her an art piece I had created earlier as a memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust. At the time I had done that piece, I didn't know why. Now I do." Ilanna's memorial piece has since been valued by the Holocaust Museum at US$500. and designated to hang in the lobby of the remodeled museum.

In the last issue of WOM was the segment Ilanna Mandel: A Passion for Peace and Art where Ilanna related the details of a project she had initiated to sell two pyro pieces she had created with peace motifs for the purpose of raising money for charity. She wrote back recently to tell me how pleased she was that one had sold at a charity auction for US$250. Good work, Ilanna!

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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 beginning of the eighth year of articles on pyrography for the Woodcarver Online Magazine (WOM), started January 1997, and the seventh 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 for IAPA members by IAPA Cofounder Mixo Sydenham of Warragul, Victoria, Australia.

2004, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.