- Introducing Susan M. Millis, Artist and Conservator
-- First the Discovery of Fire . . . Art
-- Art, History, and Conservation Intertwined
-- Inspiration from History
-- A Gallery Artist on a Quest
-- The 1990s and an Avant-Garde Inspiration
-- Formal Studies
-- Fading: The Problem Defined
-- Further Research at The Pinto Collection
- The Pinto Collection: Important 19th C. Pyrographic Artists
- Antique Works in Private Collections
-- 19th C. Artist Ralph Marshall
-- Robert Ball Hughes (1806-1868)
--- Studying an Unsigned Ball Hughes Work
--- More Works by Ball Hughes Emerge
---- Babylonian Lions
---- General Grant Proclaiming the Surrender of Richmond
---- The Last Lucifer Match
---- The Monk
- Final Notes
- References and Related Items of Interest
- Maria Luisa Grimani: "A Tree's Tale"
- From Sao Paulo, Adriano Colangelo Lectures on Art and Life
- Review of a New Book by Daniel Wright
- For Halloween: Tim Rahman's The Witch's Secret
Collection was the passionate project of Edward H. Pinto (1901-1972)
and his wife Eva, who together amassed some 6,000 objects according to
the source linked here, which provides a brief history and description
of the collection. The Birmingham
Museums & Art Gallery (BM&AG) in Birmingham, England, acquired the
collection in 1965. It was at BM&AG where Susan Millis studied with
such enthusiasm the pyrography wood panels of some of the best
pyrographic artists of the nineteenth century.
Susan describes the pyrography portion of the Pinto Collection as "the one and only comprehensive collection of pictorial panels in the world." The 19th century pictorial panels number about twenty. There are a few additional pieces of decorated objects, including a 20th century bowl done by Mrs. Margaret Child, the wife of Peter Child, the original manufacturer of the Peter Child pyro tool (the one Susan uses).
The pyrography collection includes some large panels of elaborate scenes. There is one self portrait by Ralph Marshall. Susan has provided notes on three of the artists whose works are in the Pinto Collection. Her notes on two of them are immediately following; notes on Ralph Marshall are in the next sub-section that is specifically about him.
"Comte de Rottermund. There are four works of his in the collection. To the naked eye they appear like the engravings from which they were taken, incorporating closely packed lines of differing widths, executed with extreme deftness and control. However, under slight magnification it becomes clear just how the artist worked. He worked with very hot tools and great speed, which can be confirmed by the depth of the tooling marks. He was obviously a very confident, competent artist and had a great deal of skill. Although this type of working has more light resistance, the finer lines in the composition have been significantly reduced and in minor areas are missing altogether.
I W Wells. There is a beautiful panel dated November 1, 1866, by this artist in the collection, 'Waiting for the Plough'. This is an example of pyrography, as we know it today, slightly highlighted with the use of a small gouge. It has been badly affected by light but by using a gouge the artist has preserved some of its character."
The Pretty Ballad Singer
Unfortunately, there is little known about the artist Ralph Marshall
who did the lovely work (above) between 1833 and 1834. Frank McMillen
acquired this piece in England more than forty years ago. He has been
careful to conserve it in the excellent condition in which he bought it,
and is currently planning to sell the piece.
Frank's pyrograph of The Pretty Ballad Singer is one of at least three known works by Ralph Marshall that pertain to a dramatic chiaroscuro Candlelight Series he did based on paintings by British artist Henry Morland. Like the paintings that inspired them, the pyrographic panels in that series depict figures in nighttime scenes, in each case lit with a single light source like a candle or lantern that is a central element of the composition.
According to Susan Millis, there are eight pyrographic works by Ralph Marshall in the Pinto Collection at the BM&AG. Two of the eight are unfinished works and two others in that collection--By Candlelight and Woman and Boy--are the remaining two in his Candlelight Series.
An image of Ralph Marshall's piece By Candlelight is displayed on the BMAG web site along with a large and important religious work by him called The Blinding of Elymas. To view these, log on to www.bmag.org.uk, then click on 'collections' and type 'pyrography' into the keyword search box.
Susan recounts that in 2002, in her second visit doing research at the
Pinto Collection, she was privileged to examine the work of Ralph
Marshall under magnification. She observed that Marshall worked his
panels in burning, relief, and color:
"First, by applying an all over tint with a blow lamp [aka a
blowtorch] and then carving the image highlights by removing the
charred wood with gouges. . . .He may well have strengthened the overall
colour with sepia."
"These panels are staggering to look at, and one marvels at the competence of the artist. He used a brand to sign and date his works, often in the top right corner. The collection includes a self-portrait of the artist, proving that he was not 'just a copyist'. BM&AG also has a medal, awarded to Marshall at the Great Exhibition of 1851, for his pyrographic works."
Besides the works shown here by this artist, there are more works known to be in private collections or museums. Two Ball Hughes works entitled The Sleeping Knitting Girl and The Blind Beggar of Gretna Green like the ones shown here, are in private collections and can be seen in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art. These two were featured here in earlier issues of WOM. Two more works are known to the E-Museum, but no images have as yet been provided. One is of Daniel Webster and the other is entitled Don Quixote in His Study. Susan Millis located a second one of Daniel Webster, entitled The Honorable Daniel Webster at the Andover Historical Society. This one is neither signed nor dated. At the Bostonian Society is one called Senor Don Sancho Panza Governor of Barataria and has both the title and the initials B.H. on the front but no inscription on the back.
The Witches from 'Macbeth'
British collectors David and Debbie Plunton live in England where
they acquired this unsigned and undated work believed to be by Robert
Ball Hughes, aka Ball Hughes.
What appears to be a drawing of this very piece and notes on the artist were discovered in an important 1896 article by J. Wm. Fosdick, which was featured in Pyrograffiti 12 before the Pluntons had come forward with their pyrograph. Their subsequent quest to establish the authenticity of this piece was discussed in Pyrograffiti 18 here in the WOM.
Not long afterwards, Susan Millis was asked to study this piece, which she did--in depth over some months. A summary of her findings, as well as more views of this piece are on line in the Ball Hughes Salon No. 3 in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.
Gail Houle of Maryland, U.S.A is the present owner of
Ball Hughes' "Babylonian Lions" above. Gail's piece is signed
and accompanied by two old (1800s) newspaper clippings from Dorchester
left with the pyrograph by the original owners. The work in its
original frame came down through her family from her ancestors, who were
the original owners and neighbors of Ball Hughes and his wife in
More views of this piece are displayed in the Ball Hughes Salon No. 4 in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.
General Grant Proclaiming the Surrender of
Chuck Cordero acquired the above piece from an estate
There is little known about the piece's provenance other than what appears in the inscription on the back signed by the artist; however, the date inscribed there by the artist appears to be in error as noted in the caption of the image (above).
More views of this piece are displayed in the Ball Hughes Salon No. 6 in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.
The Last Lucifer Match
The owner of the above pyrograph by Ball Hughes is
Frances Felix. Like Susan Millis, she herself studied
conservation in England; however, her specialty is in porcelain and
pottery restoration (see her website at Mill Hill Studio to learn
more). She currently teaches her methods in California, U.S.A.
In addition to her passion for porcelain and pottery, Frances also buys, sells, and trades antique jewelry and sets up a booth at antique shows about five times a year. Part of her display includes antique objects that appeal to her. She acquired her Ball Hughes pyrograph because it caught her eye and she wanted to place it in her booth for the same reason, that is, as a "show stopper."
Susan expressed how pleased she was to learn that this piece was still in existence. She already knew about it thanks to a letter that the Andover Historical Society in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. received from a previous owner back in 1966. He was asking for a valuation and gave the inscription on the verso just as it appears in the caption above. He mentioned in addition that: 'It also bears a framing sticker from the firm of Williams & Everett, 234 Washington St., Boston, Mass.'
More views of this piece are displayed in the Ball Hughes Salon No. 7 in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.
The above piece was inherited by Kelly Brown and her brother from their late
father. They are direct descendants of Ball Hughes' daughter Augusta
Ball Hughes and her husband B. F. Brown.
Accompanied by my best friend Diana Berard, who took the picture here and more views on display in the E-Museum, I had the honor and pleasure of visiting Kelly Brown this year and seeing her striking pyrography panel of The Monk in person. It is in excellent condition and is a superb example of Ball Hughes' work. The line work was most lovely and the brown tones warm and rich. What a thrill!
Kelly, who has taken great care to conserve her family heirloom, recently took her piece to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., to show it to the experts there. They were as puzzled as Kelly and I were, and Susan Millis, too, to know which "celebrated Photograph" Ball Hughes was referring to in the inscription he pyroengraved on the back of the panel. Research has so far failed to reveal a reference to the work or its photographer. The Smithsonian experts believed that it must have been a painting, not a photograph at all, despite what Ball Hughes wrote. I am wondering if perhaps there was a photograph of a painting that the artist used as a model, but that is only conjecture. No painting has turned up either.
More views of this piece are displayed in the Ball Hughes Salon No. 5 in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art
In 1994, prior to her university studies, Susan Millis did a personal museum search by
writing to museums councils all over England, Scotland, Wales, and N.
Ireland. Although she received responses from all of them, very little
information was forthcoming. She did receive a valuable lead from the
then East Midlands Museums Service directing her to 1920s works in
velvet and leather at Nottingham's Museum of Costume and Textiles. On
her own, she located pyrographic works at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
She also went to see ten large oak panels in the dining room of the Grosvenor Hotel in Stockbridge; these panels were all pictures of one famous jockey by the name of Tom Cannon. Nine of the panels pictured him with his winning racehorses, and the tenth showed him riding his favorite hunter. The artist who did the handsome panels was Tom Cannon's own sister.
Thanks to Richard Withers' notes in the E-Museum Antique Hall, Susan was able to locate a large wall mural done in a series of joined bordered panels of religious scenes at the church of St. Gwynog's in Aberhafesp.
Susan Millis's unique initiative to formally study the history of pyrography and the conservation and restoration of pyrographic works is no less than heroic. Her efforts on behalf of this art form merit immense gratitude from all of us in the pyrographic community.
Here are Susan's thoughts about where she is now in her career: "Now, as in the past, when I become despondent regarding fading, I manage to put the problem aside and carry on. Pyrography will always be part of my life in some way. For the moment, I have been researching the life and works of Robert Ball Hughes and am engaged in formulating conservation and restoration procedures for 'The Witches of Macbeth' panel owned by David and Debbie Plunton. In the future, I will be extending my career as a conservator and would like to read for a PhD, either on pyrography or avant-garde and ephemeral art, in my spare time."
 The Yves Klein quote on p. 1 is from:
Weitemeier, Hannah (1995) Yves Klein: 1928-1962, International Klein Blue, Koln: Benedikt Taschen, p. 74.
Susan Millis highly recommends this book.
 More of Susan Millis's works are in her salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art
 Link here to read Susan Millis's summary of her study on the Ball Hughes panel "The Witches of Macbeth" to determine its authenticity: Ball Hughes Salon No. 3
 Susan Millis is a member of the Society of Equestrian Artists since the early 1990s. Additional works by her can be viewed on their website, linked here.
 The Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (BM&AG) in Birmingham, England, has a display on line of selected pyrography works from their Pinto Collection. To view these, log on to www.bmag.org.uk, then click on 'collections' and type 'pyrography' into the keyword search box. Curator of Human History Sylvia Crawley is currently responsible for the Pinto Collection at BM&AG.
 Pinto, Edward H. and Eva, Tunbridge and Scottish Souvenir Ware, London: G Bell & Sons, 1970. This is the Pintos' own book about their famous collection that was later acquired by BM&AG. It has a small section on their 19th C. pyrographic panels.
 The Susan Millis article entitled "A Burning Art" was published in the May 1989 edition of Popular Crafts magazine.
N.B. A link to the e-mail or contact for any individual in all the Pyrograffiti articles and E-Museum salons--where available--can be accessed by clicking on that person's name; generally an individual's name appears as a hot link in the introductory paragraph of a segment.
2004, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.