HAND-CRAFTED LEATHER GOODS
Before endeavouring to describe how to go about it, a brief mention of what
it is and how it all began.
Pyrography (Gr. pўr, fire, graphien, to write) is the art of using fire to create art. During the 17th and 18th centuries, European artisans, such as John Cranch (1751–1821) shown below, began creating their pieces with iron "pokers", and publishing their techniques. People would put metal pokers into the fireplace to heat them. They would quickly push it into wood to create designs and impressions. The poker would cool off very fast and they would have to wait for the fire to heat it up again. During the Victorian era (1837 - 1901) pyrography was very popular.
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The early poker art (around 1890) became a thriving industry producing beautiful carved furniture and decorative household items, with every piece decorated with pyrographic designs. Though a better heating method was used by that time which involved heating a glass jar and using a miniature bellows to push the heat from the jar through a tube and onto a metal tip with a handle (poker). The hot air heated the tip enough to burn designs.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, James William Fosdick (1858–1937 — Adoration of St. Joan of Arc, 1896 — Fire-etched wood relief — Three panels, each: 109¾" x 49½"— Smithsonian American Art Museum — Gift of William T. Evans) from Charleston, Massachusetts advanced the earlier techniques by creating a new way to heat metal tips using a glass bottle containing naphtha, alcohol, and other flammable materials. His experiments resulted in the introduction of incised lines which create the 3D appearance that is common in modern day pyrographic art. Examples of Fosdick's equipment and pieces of his artwork are on display at the Smithsonian National Art Museum.
Other artists from this period, were Joseph Smith, who produced a burning of John Jeffreys, Earl of Camden on Sycamore (1816), and Ralph Marshall (pyrography panel, entitled 'By Candlelight', dated 1834, [Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery] is based on a work by the eighteenth century portrait painter, Henry Robert Morland) also did relief work on charred wood including an early advert (!) for the Post Office, some Christmas scenes, and many religious pieces. At about the same time Wilhelm De Rotternmund was active in Belgium, and his works include four copies of famous Russian battles. All have their artwork on display in the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, West Midlands, England.
Pyrographic technology continued to change during the twentieth century. One of the major developments was the addition of an electronic dial in the heating unit and wire tipped pens. The pyrographic artist Cyril Brown from Birmingham, in England, used equipment such as this. Brown's work is on display at Robert Boyer's Pyrographic Museum, 971 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Wheeling, Illinois (included in the collection of old pyrographic equipment housed in the new museum is the first set built by the late great pyrographic artist Cyril Brown who, Bob says, was one of the first to build an electric temperature-controlled unit with a wire-tipped pen). Pyrographic art work already on display in the museum includes realistic bird and animal carvings on leather. Leisure Time Products Inc.
Other famous artists, such as Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), have also produced pyrographic art, such as Para mi amigo Arias (1960 — bullfight scenes). Some of his work is on display in Eurenio Arias's collection in Buitrago del Lozoya, (see Here) a town 74 kilometres north of Madrid.
Pyrography has come a long way since the turn of the century. Almost everyone remembers having a wood burner, which was a "soldering iron" type of burning pen, when they were a child. Now an electronic, variable heat control burning system is used. It can reach 2,000 degrees in six seconds. There are many different tips used for making the designs. They come in many shapes and sizes.
It is often called "woodburning". This is a bit of a misnomer however, since it implies the art form is restricted to wood, which it is not. With specialized tools and the necessary level of skill, the pyrographer can produce pictorial work on any receptive surface as subtle in the use of line and shading as that of any other monochrome art form.
This art form is very versatile because it can be done on wood, leather, plastic, gourds, paper, egg shells, bone, horn and many other surfaces, but the object here is to focus on burning on vegetable-tanned leather, though the technique is principally the same whatever the material. Every line and shade is drawn entirely by hand which makes each piece unique. It is, too, a relatively slow and a very personal art form, simply because it takes far longer to work the "pen", responding to the inspiration offered by the grain of the leather, than it does to execute the same creativity with brush, pen or pencil.