Pyrography Art: Forgotten Gems of Arts & Crafts Movement
PYROGRAPHY ART: Forgotten Gems of the Arts & Crafts Movement
While collectors and dealers clamor for the few remaining mission Stickley bargains that may lurk in the marketplace, knowledgeable arts & crafts collectors are quietly picking up choice examples of pyrographic art also known as burntwood, flemish, or poker art that still can be found for modest prices.
Pyrography, a word of Greek derivation, is the art of writing or “engraving with fire.” (Pyro meaning “fire” and graphy meaning “to incise or engrave”). Pyrography has its modern day roots in nineteenth century France though it was practiced much earlier in other parts of Europe. Women’s Home Companion in an 1899 article accredits two Frenchmen, M.M. Pacquelin and Manual Perier with its modernization and commercialization. Pyrography was especially popular in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain (where it was known as “poker art”), and France, Germany, and Austria from about 1870 to 1930. Earlier pyrography was practiced in Germany, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Spain to name a few more countries. Many tribal cultures such as those of the Zulu s in Africa, the Australian Aboriginal, some northeastern Native American tribes, and tribal New Guinea and Oceania utilized a cruder burntwood form for decorating utilitarian goods. Nice, reasonably priced pyrographic examples from these countries and tribal cultures can still be found with a bit of searching. In America today pyrography is alive and well and is still widely practiced in craft circles.
The standard pyrographic equipment of the turn of the century included kits containing metal platinum points with wood handles used to scorch or burn wood and leather surfaces; a spirit lamp; a glass container to hold benzene or alcohol; rubber tubes- one attached to a syringe like bulb; and oils and stains. The platinum points could be kept hot by pumping gas with the bulb to the platinum tip. A wooden box or leather object could be incised with a desired design. Wood burning sets with instructions could be purchased from commercial suppliers in France and in the United States of America. In addition, these same suppliers offered catalogs featuring small unfinished wood and leather objects as well as more expensive cased furniture “blanks” stamped with a specific pattern ready for burning. The pyrographer could then burn and finish the object following the stamped design on the piece or else he or she could incise their own design without the benefit of the stamped impressions for a unique embellishment.
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