E-Museum of Pyrographic Art
Hall of Antique Art
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= = = N E W S F L A S H = = =
AN ELECTRIC PYROGRAPHY TOOL
UTILIZING WIRE TIPS
WAS DISCOVERED IN AN 1894 LETTER TO THE EDITOR SUBMITTED BY PATTY THUM
COMPLETE WITH DRAWINGS
BY THIS WELL KNOWN 19TH CENTURY ARTIST!
Look for the link in the J. William Fosdick section—in the 19th Century listing here in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum.
Antique Pyrography is a 3-page e-zine article by the E-Museum curator (published on another website) that offers a general history of the art form over the centuries. Most documented is the popular movement of the early 20th century.
PYROGRAPHY ART: Forgotten Gems of the Arts & Crafts Movement is an excellent article by Douglas Schneible, ethnographic art dealer and collector of antique pyrography. His article (published on his own Arts & Crafts website) offers a general history of the art form over the centuries with emphasis on late nineteenth and early twentieth century work. Of particular note are his segments on Charles H. F. Turner (1848–1908) and the George S. Stewart Co. See also here in the Antique Hall of the E-Museum, select works from Douglas Schneible's varied collection of antique pyrographic works.
An example of the furniture produced in the American turn-of-the-century George S. Stewart Co. based out of Norwalk, Ohio, with offices in New York and Chicago, as well, is a Turkish-inspired chair in the collection of The Wolfsonian Museum of Florida International University.
Robert E. Boyer published his book The Amazing Art of Pyrography in 1993, and now also on the internet has a History Section at his Free Art School.
Retired leather expert David Boland-Thoms is a man of many talents. Besides being famous for "making and repairing anything leather," he has assembled an immense body of knowledge on the subject at his web site, including a section devoted to pyrography that begins with its history. His page at KINGSMERE CRAFTS: Pyrography (History, page 78) is an excellent synthesis.
Real estate broker John P. Lewis, who is author of an important book that was recently published with the title Land Use Controls and Property Rights, has also been a collector of pyrographic art for many years. Back in the 1970's, John researched this art form in depth—traveling to study and photograph examples—and in 1979 wrote an unpublished book entitled Burnt Wood: The Collector's Guide to American Pyrography. During that period, he also served as a consultant for the English language version of Bernard Havez and Jean-Claude Varlet's book Pyrography: The art of woodburning that was published in 1978 by Van Nostrand Reinhold (from the 1975 French publication by Dessain et Tolra). In 2006, John Lewis most generously provided his own manuscript to the E-Museum, where many of his photographs and quotations are on display.
Early Twentieth Century
Alaska Salon*, works from a special Gold Rush Centennial exhibit entitled: "Burned Into Memory: Images of Alaska Through Historic Pyrography." This exhibit includes Reclamation works on moosehide. Following the exhibit is a link to an article with additional examples
Poker Work* collection of pyrographic art, principally early 20th Century
Flemish Art Exhibit*
from the Private Collection of Peni and Lee Powell, with a link to an article showing how they display and care for their collection
|Untitled (Ladies Doing Pyrography Projects on Leather)
From an antique postcard advertisement
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Australian Wood Review magazine is the story of the remarkable Australian artist Olive Hughes* and her work in one of the early factories of pyrographic art in Australia. The story is told in great part in her own words and shows examples of her work then—and NOW! She was also featured in the Woodcarvers On-line Magazine, in a segment entitled Olive Hughes—Still Making History! where you can see additional examples of her decorative art work in pyrography
See what the Flemish Art Company's Factory
used to look like in the early 1900's and take an imaginary tour with the company's president, M. B. Baer.
Christian Maraschin offered on his web site (now in archives) pictures from his interesting personal collection of Selected Works of Old, Antique, and Unusual Pyrography which he has been collecting since 1992. Among them are a folkart work on kangaroo leather, a decorated gourd from Cameroon, a casket done by a French prisoner of war in WWII Germany, a French postcard from 1911, and an early 20th C. Austrian cameo portrait. The French and German language versions of his site are also available through internet archives at the respective links here.
The Polperro Pokerwork Cottage Industry—The Cornish Litany, the account of an English cottage industry that began in 1923 with the burning in wood of the Cornish Litany and other well known proverbs
William Fuller Curtis, Untitled is an exotic work from 1911 with a Latin inscription. This work, from a private collection, is being researched in the hope of learning its title and translating its inscription.
William Fuller Curtis, Untitled is a lovely cameo of a young woman dated 1910. Research is underway on this work in the hope of learning its title and provenance.
Published in The International Studio in 1909 is the very pretty article entitled
Wood Panels by William Fuller Curtis, pp. 73–74, featuring four excellent illustrations of his work, including the well known "Sea Fairies" owned by the Cosmos Club.
William Fuller Curtis is featured in a 6-page article covering the tenth annual Exhibition of the Boston Arts and Crafts Society, which took place in February of 1907. His work entitled "Royalty" was selected as one of only eight illustrations highlighting that large exhibition of nearly 600 participants.
William Fuller Curtis, Pyrographer is a comprehensive 4-page article published in House & Garden in 1903, featuring six excellent illustrations of his work, as well as some biographical aspects.
William Fuller Curtis, four untitled, undated (turn-of-the-century) works
from the collection of the Ashfield Historical Society of Massachusetts
and one earlier 1897 panel entitled "The Song of the Tide "
from a private collection in Hawaii; an undated panel entitled "Monks" and a 1904 untitled panel that were recently auctioned. Most recently added is a 1903 catalogue illustration and a critique by C. H. Caffin.
Anonymous, Lion, a circa 1910 wood panel of a lion in bas relief detailed in burning against a richly textured pyroengraved background
from the private collection of Douglas Schneible
Mr. Souther, Settee—Joan of Arc, cited in a 1908 New York Times review of the second annual Arts and Crafts Exhibit, held by the National Arts Club in collaboration with the National Society of Craftsmen, which opened December 2, 1908. Here is the specific review: "...and Mr. Souther a settee with panels in burnt work, illustrating the story of Joan of Arc, an ambitious attempt to bring the art of burnt woodwork in line with that of the carver's tool."
Clyde Marshall Stewart, The Guide, professional artist, circa 1907 wood panel, from the private collection of Douglas Schneible
Along with J. Wm. Fosdick, who is featured in his own large 19th Century subsection below, are eighteen artists cited along with their works in the 1900–1904 catalogues of the Architectural League of New York. Following is the impressive list of those nineteen artists, whose pyrographic works were accepted for display in likely the most prestigious professional exhibitions of that time in the United States:
- Harriette Amsden (also Harriette Amsden Lyon)
- Nancy Barrows
- Claude Fayette Bragdon
- Estelle M. Burdick
- William Fuller Curtis
- Eunice Drennan
- Harriet Keith Fobes
- J. William Fosdick
- E. M. Gulesch
- Ethel Hore
- H. Revere Johnson
- Harriet Martell
- Paul Schramm
- Sylvia Sewell
- Ottilie P. Staber (also O. P. Staber)
- R. R. von Thadden
- Margaret C. Uhl
- Charles C. Waterbury
- Raphael A. Weed
T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), Screen and Pencil Box, 1903–1904, two decorative items in medieval designs each done when the famous Lawrence of Arabia was still a teenager and recovering from an illness. These works are from the Catalogue of the T. E. Lawrence Centenary Exhibition
held at the National Portrait Gallery, London, 1988–1989.
Anonymous, Pair of Knights, pair of circa 1900 Arts & Crafts Movement wood panels, each depicting a knight in full armor with his shield
from the private collection of Audrey Hamby
Introducing Susan M. Millis: Artist and Conservator is the first page of Pyrograffiti 30 (published on another website*) that introduces this present day pyrographic artist who has studied the history of pyrography and obtained a university degree in the conservation and restoration of pyrographic works.
A segment entitled The Pinto Collection: Important 19th C. Pyrographic Artists on page two of the same article highlights Susan Millis' research and notes on that collection at the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, U.K. Subsequent segments on that page illustrate additional 19th C. pieces in private collections.
Notes from Richard Withers*, from a Welsh pyrographic artist who has visited and documented much of the antique pyrographic art in the U.K. This is a valuable resource for researchers and anyone planning a visit to the U.K.
Sid Huttner's Lucile Project*, display of pyroengraved antique book covers in split suede plus an introduction and links to Sid Huttner's quest to locate individual examples of the many published versions of the book Lucile as a way of encapsulating 19th C. bookbinding techniques.
Norman W. Kingsley, an extraordinary 1899 portrait of a young Rembrandt van Rijn, from the private collection of Douglas Schneible
Norman W. Kingsley, the biography of the professional life of this remarkable dentist, artist, sculptor, writer, lecturer, and inventor; exhibit includes 12 pyrography panels done after Rembrandt's paintings
Along with J. Wm. Fosdick, who is featured in his own large 19th Century subsection below, are six artists cited along with their works in the 1893–1899 catalogues of the Architectural League of New York. Following is the impressive list of those seven artists, whose pyrographic works were accepted for display in likely the most prestigious professional exhibitions of that time in the United States:
- Claude Fayette Bragdon (one illustration in this exhibit)
- J. William Fosdick
- E. M. Gulesch
- Paul Schramm
- Ottilie P. Staber (see also O. P. Staber)
- R. R. von Thadden
- Raphael A. Weed
Raphael Weed, an 1899 memorial panel by this artist is documented here. It was a commissioned work, used as part of a very elaborate presentation ceremony for Admiral Dewey upon his triumphal return to New York City that year.
Charles H. F. Turner*, two 1898 exquisite pyroengraved works by this late 19th century Bostonian artist; from the private collection of Douglas Schneible.
Claude Fayette Bragdon, an 1897 article about this multi-faceted artist and architect and his many accomplishments. More will be forthcoming in this salon, as new details emerge on a special exhibit dedicated to him that is planned for 2010.
RAVERMEY 1896, a well rendered 1896 portrait of an unknown subject by an unknown artist; from the private collection of David Fox.
A. S. F. Kirby, circa 1895, Untitled Japanese Panel. See also Section on J. William Fosdick below (subsection on Century Magazine article, p. 495).
Note also that four works by A. S. F. Kirby of 96 Washington Street in Boston were listed in the 1890 Catalogue of the First Annual Exhibition of the Boston Architectural Club, as follows:
810, 811, 812 PANELS, BURNT WORK.
813 TABLE ORNAMENTED WITH BURNT WORK.
A. S. F. Kirby, Pair of Panels: Whaling Ship Motifs are two 1899 "unusual pyrographic" Maple panels each 58.5 by 61 inches, described at Art Fact as lot 301 in a 1989 auction, as follows: "One ... depicts a whaler departing with a crew waving to men in small boats; the second [depicts] the Ship 'Mattapoisett' rafting casks ashore. Both scenes [were] rendered to simulate the view from a whaleship's agent's window."
Aldam Heaton, circa 1895, Untitled English Burnt-Wood Panel in Library of White Star Steamship "Teutonic." See also Section on J. William Fosdick below (subsection on Century Magazine article, p. 500).
|James William Fosdick In His Studio|
Posing with His Thermo-Pyrography Tool and a Work in Progress
Published in his article in The Art Interchange in July 1894
Published 1899 in THE ARTIST Magazine is an article about J. William Fosdick entitled An American Artist in Burnt Wood by Charles H. Caffin. It has four illustrations.
J. William Fosdick, Decorative Portrait
(Lady Gainsborough? )*
Very large panel portrait circa 1897
from the private collection of William Drucker.
J. William Fosdick, Let the Blaze Laugh Out*
Decorative wooden bellows dated 1897,
from the private collection of Jennifer Betts.
J. William Fosdick, A dozen portraits of literary and other famous figures
rendered on decorative wooden panels, enhanced with gilded details.
The twelve panels are in the library of Georgian Court, which was once the stately mansion that graced the 155-acre estate of railroad magnate George J. Gould in Lakewood, New Jersey, U.S.A. Today that mansion graces the campus of Georgian Court University, and the twelve panels decorate the beautiful library that serves as the meeting room for the president of the university.
Published in the Ladies' Home Journal in September 1896 is an article by J. William Fosdick entitled The Fire Etcher and His Art, which displays in a large black-and-white photograph across the top half of the page his 9-ft by 13-ft triptych of the Glorification of Joan of Arc. This first link immediately above is to the E-Museum's display of the top half of the article (showing the magnificent triptych). Linked following are the text of the article and additional images (including a bellows) from the bottom half of The Fire Etcher and His Art, which also includes a short biographical note on the artist and author at the end.
In August 1896, Century Magazine published an article by James William Fosdick entitled Burnt Wood in Decoration: With Modern and Ancient Examples. The preceding link is for the first page of the article (p.495) and features three images: a Japanese panel by A. S. F. Kirby, one of J. William Fosdick's contemporaries; a decorative portrait entitled "Evening" by Fosdick himself; and a 16th Century English chest. Following is the link for Page 496 featuring a Gothic panel by Fosdick; Page 497 is mostly taken up with Fosdick's massive panel of Louis XIV that is still today in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Note that the calligraphy in that panel is gilded. Page 498 illustrates a fragment of a frieze by Fosdick of Henry VIII entitled "The Field of the Cloth of Gold," which won a gold medal at the Atlanta exposition. Page 499 has one work by Fosdick's predecessor Ball Hughes, an 1862 panel entitled "The Witches from 'Macbeth'" plus an Italian sideboard from the 16th Century. The article closes at the top of Page 500 with a pyrography work by another contemporary of Fosdick's—Aldam Heaton, whose panel was in the library of the steamship Teutonic. Truly this article was a treasure to find. [Note that the page images exhibited here are adapted from the small pages of the 1896 Century Magazine publication acquired by the E-Museum. The black-and-white original pages are only 9.5 inches tall by 6.5 inches wide.]
J. William Fosdick Bequeaths a Treasure* is a 2001 article in Pyrograffiti written by the E-Museum curator when that Century Magazine article was first discovered on the internet thanks to Cornell University's "Making of America" series. It has excerpts and illustrations from Fosdick's 1896 article (including the grand Louis XIV by Fosdick and the 1862 panel of the Three Witches by Ball Hughes) and discusses a controversy Fosdick initiated regarding this art form and its applications. Included in that 2001 Pyrograffiti article was a link to another important work by J. William Fosdick: his Glorification of Joan of Arc (also known as The Adoration of St. Joan of Arc) in the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Linked here is a recently added larger image at the Smithsonian of Fosdick's Joan of Arc, which is a magnificent, relief burned, gilded triptych 9 feet high and a total of 13 feet wide. Commentary by the E-Museum Curator on a 2006 visit with Susan Millis to see the Smithsonian's triptych is at this second link.
And for another interpretation of the work with a different feel to it, here is a link to photographer A. M. Kuchling's image of Fosdick's Joan of Arc. And following is a second link to a larger format of his same photograph of Joan of Arc. These two images afford a particular appreciation of the pyrographic technique, which according to Fosdick, is burned in places to a depth of half an inch.
In a separate part of the Smithsonian's American Art Museum's web site dedicated to The Gilded Age of American Art is still another page (showing only the central panel of Fosdick's Joan of Arc) that features a short, very nice description of this work and its historical context. In addition, the Smithsonian published a lovely coffee-table book entitled The Gilded Age: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum with descriptive text and a reproduction of Fosdick's Joan of Arc, as well.
One more site with a very lovely picture shows Fosdick's triptych of the Glorification of Joan of Arc displayed in its new (2006) setting in the Gilded Age Gallery of the American Art Museum as the lead image in an article by New York art historian and critic N. F. Karlins entitled Portrait America celebrating the opening of the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery on Independence Day weekend 2006 after six years of renovation.
Studying the different sites all dedicated to the same art work is not only enjoyable but also helps to get a better sense of this landmark work done in Fosdick's original technique in pyrography, which he termed fire etching.
Despite his enormous talent for pyrographic work, you may be surprised at some of J. Wm. Fosdick's opinions about this art form. Also surprising was his apparent disapproval of adding color to pyrographic works—he did, however, employ gilding in his Joan of Arc in the Smithsonian's American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. It is also relief carved.
In contrast, his 14 Stations of the Cross in Waterbury, Connecticut; his pentaptych of the Life of St. Joan of Arc in Jackson Heights, New York; and his Venetian Reader are pyrographic works with color, exhibited in the salon linked here, which also features comments by John P. Lewis on Fosdick's changes in technique.
An important technical article by J. William Fosdick entitled, A Short Treatise Upon the Art of Fire-Etching was published in the book HANDICRAFT by Arthur Carey et al., for the National League of Handicraft Societies, from page 116 (the lead image of his "Glorification of Joan of Arc") to page 123.
Offering decorating ideas for rural homeowners is this fourth article by J. William Fosdick entitled FIRE ETCHING IN HOME DECORATION exhibited here in the E-Museum from the large format magazine Country Life. It offers five small illustrations, one of which previously we have seen cited but never illustrated—"The Adoration of the Kings," which was the third work by Fosdick known to have belonged to Wm. T. Evans.
J. William Fosdick, Decorative Portrait, Catherine Parr
A small panel with color
from the private collection of Douglas Schneible.
Additional works by J. William Fosdick, including a Reredos of St. John with Jesus Christ done for a church in Montclair, New Jersey, and the Kennard Family Crest are exhibited in the salon linked here, which is salon no. 3. This exhaustive exhibit encompasses many aspects of J. William Fosdick's life and accomplishments, including citing additional works by him, listing (with links) other (non-pyrographic) writings of his, and additional biographical notes on him and his wife Gertrude Christian Fosdick.
Two feature articles entitled STUDIO TALK and published in the International Studio: An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art display four works by J. William Fosdick in the first and a critique in the second.
An article written by Marie Jonreau entitled BURNT WOOD DECORATION and published in Puritan Magazine features five works by J. William Fosdick and notes on his technique and style. One work "A Fury" may be the same one pictured in his 1896 Ladies Home Journal article. The other four are heretofore unseen ones.
Published in The Art Interchange in July 1894 is a fifth article by J. William Fosdick entitled BURNT-WOOD DECORATION, which includes a photograph of the artist posing in his studio with his enormous thermo-pyrography tool (also shown above at the beginning of this section). The article also illustrates two works by him: Henry VIII (a similar but distinct version from the one in the Century Magazine article of 1896) and The Miller's Daughter.
|Patty Thum's Electric Pyrography Tool, circa 1891|
and a Demonstration of "Fire Drawing"
Drawing by Patty Thum
Published in The Art Interchange in September 1894 as a response
to their July 1894 article by J. William Fosdick.
PATTY THUM'S ELECTRIC PYROGRAPHY TOOL APPEARED A QUARTER OF A CENTURY AHEAD OF ITS TIME.
It is astonishing that, published in The Art Interchange in September 1894 as a response to their July 1894 article by J. William Fosdick is a letter to the editor submitted by Patty Thum, describing and illustrating the ELECTRIC pyrography tool SHE INVENTED.
Added September 2008 to the Patty Thum exhibit is a link to an 1891 letter with additional information regarding Patty Thum's invention.
In 1892, there were two noteworthy articles about J. William Fosdick published:
the first is a well illustrated, seeming compilation of other Fosdick articles and interviews, entitled
Etching With Fire. This comprehensive article is by Franklin Smith in the American Magazine.
This Franklin Smith article even includes material found in the second, which is a New York Times article entitled The Fire Etcher's Work: Beautiful Bits of Art That Are Burned in Wood. An excerpt from the New York Times article can likewise be found in Fosdick's 1884 Salon below.
Published in the Art Interchange Magazine in December 1891 is a sixth article by J. William Fosdick—including a portrait photograph of him—entitled BURNT WOOD IN DECORATION, which is immediately followed with biographical notes on the author, including the story of his beginnings in this art form linked to Ball Hughes, as well as notes on his works.
A December 1888 article on pyrography in Art Amateur Magazine with the odd title of The Use of Charred Wood in Interior Decoration turned out surprisingly to be in great part about J. William Fosdick (and also about Ball Hughes). It also has an interesting reference to an electric tool in Germany.
J. William Fosdick, 1888 Decorative Portrait, Lady Godiva
This panel is one of his earlier works exhibited in Paris before his return to the United States and exhibited again at the Van Dyck Studios
in New York City; from the collection of Sathya Designs.
A whimsical 1884 Wood Panel by J. William Fosdick Dedicated to E. D. Adams is of historical importance because it is related to the first architectural commission for a frieze that launched the artist's career.
English immigrant to America Lawrence Willmore Pennington aka "Lon Penn" was a jeweler by profession and a pyrographic artist by avocation. This interesting account tells his story and cites in detail his considerable body of work, including two pieces said to be in the Dublin Art Gallery and the White House, respectively.
"Mr. H. C. Ives, art director of the Columbian Exposition [of 1893], in his visits to all the capitals of Europe found but one interior completely decorated with burnt wood. It was the reception-room of the Stockholm Technological School of Art, which school, says Mr. Ives, is one of the best in the world. The apartment—a reception-room adjoining the director's office—was finished in every part by students. The mass of the woodwork was dark; the panels of doors, wainscot, and ceiling were all of satinwood, into which had been burned Renaissance designs."
From an article by J. William Fosdick entitled Burnt Wood in Decoration: With Modern and Ancient Examples
in The Century Magazine, p. 499, 1896.
Wall Mural of Wood Panels*
dedicated in 1893 to the Church of St. Gwynog, Aberhafesp, Wales, U.K.
by E. B. Proctor.
Anonymous, Four Seasons, set of four circa 1890 wood panels each representing one of the four seasons and inscribed with apropos quotes
from William Shakespeare
from the private collection of Douglas Schneible
A. Kohlbagen, Untitled, 1886, large framed wood panel inscribed
in German; from the private collection of Douglas Schneible
Cannon, Ten Equestrian Panels of Jockey Tom Cannon, circa 1885, in the River Room Restaurant at the famous Grosvenor Hotel in Stockbridge, Hampshire, U.K. Now shown at the Grosvenor Hotel site linked here (above), these are the panels cited in 2004 by Susan Millis in the closing notes of a 2-page interview in the WOM at this second link, where she explained that nine of the panels pictured him with his winning racehorses, and the tenth showed him riding his favorite hunter.
NOTE: Once at the hotel site, place your cursor over the little block of 8 images in the menu on the left, and in the upper right hand corner of that block is the image that will bring up a partial view of the Tom Cannon panels.
Note also: There is one more partial view of the Tom Cannon panels at the hotel's home page selection of images.
In the write-up at that (first) page is a little additional history, including that the hotel was once the private home of the famous jockey Tom Cannon. What is not mentioned there but revealed by Susan Millis in that 2004 interview is that the pyrographic artist who did the handsome panels was Tom Cannon's own sister.
Ernst Haeckel circa 1880 étagère in Villa Medusa.
Vincent Van Gogh* 1880 and 1881 images of a pair of unauthenticated works believed to be by this artist.
Unknown artist (Vincent Van Gogh?), Boys Playing Dice is an undated wood panel thought possibly to be by Van Gogh; it is after a painting by 17th century Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
from the private collection of Robert J. Miller
I. W. Wells, Wait A Wee, a rare 1876 panel (one of only two known works by this artist; the other is in the famous Pinto Collection).
From the private collection of Philip Scott
Otto Johnson, McIntyre & Heath, an 1874 Early American naïve portrait on wood panel, which has a sign in the mid section that says, "New York: Own Your Own Home"
from the private collection of Douglas Schneible
Th. Hall, The First Prayer in Congress, an 1870 wood panel depicting the 1774 first American Congress assembled in prayer in Philadelphia's Carpenter Hall; inscribed.
Charles Dickens, All the Year Round is the name of a weekly journal he "conducted" in conjunction with Chapman and Hall, who published it in London. In an 1870 article he wrote for that publication, he cited some of the important artists of pyrography, who worked in the 19th and even 18th centuries, as follows:
- Smith of Skipton [see the Joseph Smith salon entries here in the Antique Hall in the early part of the 19th and into the late 18th centuries below].
- Cranch of Axminster [see an entry and image of Cranch here in the Antique Hall in the 18th century below]
- Thompson of Wilts [no further information available]
- Collis of Ireland [no further information available]
- Mrs. Nelson (fifty-three works) and
- Miss Nelson (thirteen works) (noted by Dickens for a joint exhibit of their works in London at the beginning of the 19th century at the farrier's adjoining the Lyceum, in the Strand) [no further information available]
|Portrait of Robert Ball Hughes (1804–1868)|
Drawing believed to be by Georgina Ball Hughes
After an oil painting by John Trumbull, 1839
Digital image from a very small black and white photograph of the drawing,
in the article "The Poker-Drawings of Ball-Hughes" by Edward Daland Lovejoy,
The Magazine ANTIQUES, September 1946, p. 175.
Owner: Frederick R. Brown, Jr., Ridgefield, Connecticut
Owner of companion portrait of Ball Hughes' wife Eliza Wright (1807–1892):
Landsdell K. Christie, Syosset, New York
Following this brief introduction is a long list of works by Robert Ball Hughes (1804–1868), a famous sculptor and engraver, known especially among numismatists for his beautiful American coins, who is also considered the artist who brought pyrography to America. [Note that his date of birth is sometimes shown as 1806; however, according to conservator Susan Millis, 1804 seems more likely.]
J. William Fosdick was Ball Hughes' successor in the latter part of the 19th century. Four of the six articles by J. William Fosdick, as well as five of some eight or more articles about him (all cited in his large section above) include some history of his revered predecessor. Most recommended of all in this regard is the 1892 article by Franklin Smith. It was Ball Hughes' widow Eliza (Wright) Ball Hughes whose reference was the source of Fosdick's first architectural commission in pyrography (see Newsflash item highlighted in yellow text below).
In a 2006 Pyrograffiti article entitled
Susan M. Millis: Pursuing a Unique Degree*
is an update on this British pyrographic artist and conservator who was introduced earlier in that publication (linked at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century listings above).
In this travelogue of her July–August 2006 trip to the United States, besides the news that Susan had begun work on a doctorate in the conservation and restoration of pyrographic works, was that she was doing a paper for her thesis on the history of pyrography that featured the works of Robert Ball Hughes, which were the focus of her research trip. She presented that paper in November of 2006 and is pursuing getting it published in an academic journal.
|Untitled (Gentlemen at Pokerwork Gathering)|
"Years and years ago, when art and conviviality went hand in hand in England, and when the tavern was a clubhouse, it was the custom of the artists to exercise their passing inspirations on the walls around them. A poker, heated red-hot in the fireplace, was their tool. With it they sketched faces and figures—a memory of a scene of nature—an idea for a new ornament—a cartoon of some public man."
Excerpt and image of an engraving from WHEN AND HOW TO USE ORIENTAL LACQUERS, "Pyrography, Poker Painting, or Burnt Wood Etching," Chapter IX, pp. 27–28, published by Thayer & Chandler, Chicago, Illinois, 1925.
Rev. William Calvert, Christ and the two disciples at Emmaus, a circa 1845 pokerwork (originally a reredos), can be viewed here at St. Mary the Virgin's Church in Forthampton, where today it is placed against the wall of the south aisle.
In their 2002 book Gloucestershire, David Verey and Alan Brooks describe Rev. Calvert's pokerwork as framed in wood with "crocketed ogee arch and pinnacles" and note that it was once the reredos on the circa 1300 Norman stone altar of St. Mary's. When the church was restored and enlarged in the 19th Century, Rev. Calvert's pokerwork was placed against the nave's wall. In addition, they note the following: "An almsbox nearby is also by Rev. Calvert, with a carved scene of the Widow's Mite."
Ralph Marshall, The Pretty Ballad Singer*, 1833 work from the private collection of David Plunton. This work is one of three known works in this artist's "Candlelight" series. Also included in this salon is a link to an article with background information on the artist and his other works in the Pinto Collection in Birmingham, England
Joseph Smith, Untitled (Galileo), an 1824 work after a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn
from the private collection of Richard and Linn Hart
Joseph Smith, Kneeling, an 1823 work from the private collection of Lynn Derrick
Joseph Smith, The Head of Christ with the Crown of Thorns, an 1821 work, in a private collection in Kuranda, Australia. Also included in this salon is a link to an article with background information on the Pinto Collection in Birmingham, U.K., where additional works by this artist are held
Joseph Smith, The Merchant and his Partner, an 1821 work with a variation in the typical Smith inscription, from the private collection of John Hague in England.
Joseph Smith, The Nightmare, from the private collection of Shaban Munir, was done after a painting by Henry Fuseli from his "Nightmare" series. Also included in this salon is a link to an article with background information on the Pinto Collection in Birmingham, U.K., where additional works by this artist are held
Joseph Smith, Lamentation of Christ, this 1820 signed panel from a private collection is after a painting by Annibale Carracci. Also included in this salon is a link to an article with background information on the Pinto Collection in Birmingham, U.K., where additional works by this artist are held
Joseph Smith, Orphans, this as yet undated panel was cited in an 1819 document—"...in pyrography, by Mr Smith of Skipton Castle..."—as being in the collection of Harewood House
Joseph Smith, Simeon with the Infant Christ in His Arms, this as yet undated panel was cited in an 1819 document—"...in pyrography, by Mr Smith of Skipton Castle..."—as being in the collection of Harewood House
Joseph Smith, Dancing Muse and Grecian Lady, both panels in this pair of 1808 framed works are inscribed with the artist's name, date, and Skipton Castle. Also included in this salon is a link to an article with background information on the Pinto Collection in Birmingham, U.K., where additional works by this artist are held
The following excerpt and its introduction are quoted here in their entirety as they appeared in the 1970 book by Edward H. and Eva R. Pinto, entitled Tunbridge and Scottish Souvenir Woodware: With Chapters on Bois Durci and Pyrography published in London by G. Bell and Sons:
"In Memoirs of a Highland Lady, the autobiography of Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, 1797–1830, the author writes about her uncle, Dr. James Griffith, who was head of University College, Oxford (1810–11):
'Through this library was a small room with a fireplace used by my uncle to heat his irons for his poker-painting . . . His graver style, whether in water-colours, chalks, reeds or burnt in, are considered to have shown great genius . . . The altar-piece in his own College chapel—Christ blessing the Bread—was of his own poker-painting. In the museum was a head, I think of Leicester, and while we were with him he was busy with a tiger the size of life, the colouring of the old oak panel and the various tints burnt on it so perfectly suiting the tiger's skin. Jane (younger sister of Elizabeth Grant) was his great assistant in this work, heating the irons for him in the little end room, and often burning portions of the picture herself.'"
Joseph Smith, Royal Arms, 1798 panel in the Holy Trinity Church in Skipton
Unknown Artist, Venetian Cedar Wood Chest, late 18th C., can be viewed at the link here for a 2007 auction in Donnington Priory in the U.K. It is described at the Dreweatts web site link as "...decorated overall with pokerwork figural scenes and motifs in the Renaissance style, the centre of the hinged, rectangular cover with a monumental armorial on a cross-hatched ground, flanked by rectangular reserves depicting nobles and soldiery in landscapes, with conforming sides and front, with iron lock and key, 61cm high, 162cm wide, (restoration, later castors)"
|John Cranch at age 44 (1751–1823)
Image courtesy of David Boland-Thoms, KINGSMERE CRAFTS:
Pyrography (History, page 78)
British writer and artist John Cranch of Axminster was a man of many talents, but was particularly known for his writing, music, and drawing. His first employment was as a writer in the office of John Knight, the steward to Lord Petre's estates. The anecdote regarding his first attempt at pokerwork is told in a 1901 publication entitled Devon Notes and Queries by P. Amery et al., as follows:
"During the absence of his employer from the office on a winter's day Cranch amused himself in front of the fireplace by executing a design on the panels of a large oaken chimney-piece with the pointed end of a red-hot poker, producing an effect by the boldness of style and execution which was greatly admired."
According to his biography on pp. 193–194 in that book, Cranch's life was one of many changes of fortune that, ultimately, did not end very well. The authors did note that he had significant success in painting although never realized an exhibit at the Royal Academy, the British benchmark of artistic recognition. Some of his paintings are still in existence.
John Cranch also became well known for having produced many poker pictures, although no examples have been located to date. In 1811, he published a book with the curious long title of Inducements to promote the Fine Arts of Great Britain by exciting Native genius to independent Effort and Original Design.
His 1811 book was heretofore believed by some to be the first such publication on the topic of (or at least to include the topic of) pyrography. However, according to conservator Susan Millis, who sought out this book to study, and who read it twice from cover to cover, there is no pyrography in it whatsoever.
Salvator Rosa (1615–1673),
The Good Samaritan and The Temptation of Christ
A pair of framed panels by this famous 17th Century artist, poet, and satirist that were found cited in 19th Century documents as being in the collection of the Stanley Family of Knowsley Hall
The Royal Stuart Chest
An English decorative and pictorial chest, dated 1630–1650, that traveled to America in the 17th Century.
The Philadelphia Chest
A decorative and pictorial chest, dated circa 1630–1650, that is illustrated here and described as being similar to the Royal Stuart Chest, which is also described here.
A naïve 1596 Portuguese Cassone (Chest) from the Azores can be viewed at the CINOA site at this link. It is a wonderful colonial cedar chest decorated with mythological figures.
According to the Pelican Instruction Book published by Thayer and Chandler of Chicago in 1907, Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571) counted pokerwork among his accomplishments. In the introduction to the section on Coloring (p. 13), it says, "Burnt wood has been colored as far back as the sixteenth century, when Cellini etched with a poker." Nothing was cited to substantiate this claim, and the E-Museum has not found any works in pyrography attributed to Cellini.
Beautiful examples of 16th Century Italian Cassoni (Chests) are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, England, (where at least one can be seen by appointment).
One example of an English cassone (chest) and another of a panel from an Italian sideboard are illustrated in the
August 1896, Century Magazine article by James William Fosdick entitled Burnt Wood in Decoration: With Modern and Ancient Examples, Page 495 and Page 499 respectively.
"The art of Burning, or Etching, upon wood with hot irons was sometimes employed by the artists of the Middle Ages. A rich XVth century chest in the Musée de Cluny at Paris was doubtless done in this way."
Excerpt from notes by J. William Fosdick, circa 1888.
"In the sacristy of the little octagonal church of Sant' Ercolano at Perugia are some ancient chests which were quaintly decorated with hot irons some four hundred years ago." [Curator's note: circa 1496, i.e., now more than 500 years ago].
From an article by J. William Fosdick entitled Burnt Wood in Decoration: With Modern and Ancient Examples
in The Century Magazine, p. 499, 1896.
An illustrated article on
Celtic Harps* in Pyrograffiti shows two very famous harps: the Trinity College Harp, which is on display (along with the Book of Kells) in the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland, and the Queen Mary Harp, which is on display in the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Featured also in that article segment is a magnificent reproduction of the Trinity Harp by Jay Witcher (harpmaker) and Charlotte Hallett (pyrographer and harpist) showing how the original Trinity would have looked in all its glory back in the 15th Century.
* Indicates an exhibit with a link to an illustrated feature article in the Woodcarvers Online Magazine (WOM)
You are leaving the Antique Art Hall.
You may wish to continue your stay at the E-Museum
with a visit upstairs to the
Antique Pyrographic Tools Exhibit
Or you may like to visit the
Antique Pyrographic Books Exhibit
Or visit one of the following:
Pyrographic Art Exhibit Halls:
Your comments and questions are welcome and appreciated. Please e-mail Curator.
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© All rights reserved 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez. Last updated 06 October 2009