Journal

Pyrography Center Table

09.26.2017

pyrography center table

This graceful center table (30″ wide, 21.75″ deep, 30″ high) is a stellar example of a decorative technique called pyrography, literally meaning fire writing, but better known as wood burning (a.k.a. “burnt wood etching” and “pokerwork”). The table dates from circa 1910, so was created during the late 19th-early 20th century time period when pyrography reached peak popularity with artists and crafters.

pyrography on birch bark

Before describing this table in more detail, it is worth recounting a bit of the fascinating background of pyrography which includes pieces of history from the domains of art, science, society, and commerce.

A Brief History of Pyrography

Burning designs into wood, leather, and bone for artistic expression dates back to at least the 1st century AD. In early times designs were etched with hot implements that needed to be constantly reheated as the artwork progressed.

That inconvenient and tiresome technique changed radically in 1889 when an artist named François Manuel-Perier introduced a “pyrography machine” at the International Exposition in Paris. He had adapted a medical instrument that a French physician had invented in 1875 for cauterizing wounds. The tool had an insulated handle with a sharp tip made of platinum, a metal which was uniquely able to absorb a certain gaseous mixture that could keep the tip hot. 

Within a year, a compact version of Manuel-Perier’s thermo-pyrography tool, made by Abbott Brothers Manufacturing, was being sold in England within a kit called “The Vulcan Wood Etching Machine.”

The basic necessities included in the kit were pencils with varying size platinum tips, an alcohol spirit lamp, a jar of liquid benzene, and two lengths of rubber tubing – one connected to a bellows and the other connected to the hollow platinum pencil tip.

The artist would initially heat the sharp platinum tip of the pencil in the flame of the spirit lamp, then extinguish the lamp. While using the pencil tip to burn a design into wood with one hand, the artist would then constantly pump the bellows with their other hand which transmitted benzene vapor through the tube to the platinum point which then absorbed the gas to keep the tip glowing hot.

Conveniently, in 1891, a year after Abbott Brothers introduced its pyrography kits, a book titled A Handbook on Pyrography written by a Mrs. Maud Maude was published in England, declaring that “the art has lately attracted considerable attention and is now a most fashionable art with enthusiastic feminine amateurs.”

The book, along with a series of articles Mrs. Maude penned for the U.S. magazine The Delineator in 1892, gave explicit instructions for producing pyrographic art using the Vulcan kit, thereby helping the art form became a fad as a home craft, particularly among women. It turns out that Mrs. Maud Maude was a pseudonym for Ann Maud Abbott Freeman, a sister of the Abbott Brothers who manufactured the Vulcan pyrography kit. Savvy marketing, indeed.

Additional publications encouraging the craft of pyrography as a “delightful and profitable pastime” for women followed, including the 1894  Fancy Work for Pleasure and Profit by Addie E. Heron which detailed how women could make decorative objects for their own homes or to sell, and the 1903 book 300 Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Lilla Elizabeth Kelley which had a chapter devoted to pyrography filled with detailed instructions as well as encouragements such as, “If the point does not work well at once do not feel vexed.” Thus began the popular trend of adorning household objects such as small boxes, mirrors, frames, and wall plaques with pyrographic art.

 

Riding the wave of pyrography as a popular home craft, the Flemish Art Company was established in Brooklyn, NY around 1900 to began producing pyrographic objects commercially.

Flemish Art Company

(from pyromuse.org)

The company manufactured its own wooden objects – wastebaskets, hand mirrors, tabourettes, handkerchief boxes, wall plaques and the like – largely from basswood that they sourced “in the cold climates of  Michigan, Minnesota, and Canada” which the company believed produced superior, whiter wood. Their artistic employees, many of whom were women, then hand-decorated the objects with pyrographic designs. The company’s artists also engraved metal plates that were heated and pressed onto wood to decorate some of their commercial products.

Flemish Art Company

A Flemish Art Company production room (from pyromuse.org)

 

A Flemish Art Company artist at work (from pyromuse.org)

This frame (which we owned and sold several years ago), depicting a sporting woman with a tennis racket and bag of golf clubs, was likely handmade by a Flemish Art Company artist.

pyrography frame

(cherrygallery.com archives)

The Flemish Art Company also sold pyrography kits that included paints, stains, waxes and varnishes, instruction booklets, and other handy tools for do-it-yourself pyrographers.

(from pyromuse.org)

One particularly interesting accessory was the “Flemish Art non-explosive absorbent – a cotton-like substance called asbestos” which crafters were encouraged to “place in the benzene bottle to absorb the volatile fluid make it safe and non-explosive should the bottle break.”  

Although pyrography instruction books included some ominous warnings such as: “You should always have a fire extinguisher at the ready and preferably another person nearby who could help in case of an accident,” and “If a red flame issues from your vent hole, your benzene is too strong,” no one at the time understood the carcinogenic hazards of working with these materials.

Pyrography and the Rustic Aesthetic

The era of mass popularity of pyrography as a crafting activity, roughly 1890 through the 1920s, coincided with the rusticator era when city folk sought not only experiences in the wilderness, but also decorative reminders of nature and adventures in the outdoors. Not surprisingly, then, pyrographic designs have appeared on antique rustic accessories that we’ve handled over the years.

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Glamping: 21st Century Rusticating

08.21.2017

As summer nears its Labor Day finale, I am already wistful for opportunities to spend warm days and starry nights in peaceful, outdoor surroundings. Recently watching a movie filmed on the steppes of Mongolia (The Eagle Huntress – the best, albeit the only, G-rated movie I’ve seen in a long time) got me thinking about one way to live with just a fabric’s (or sheep’s hide) width of separation from nature: in a semi-permanent shelter such as a traditional Mongolian ger (more familiarly known as a yurt).

(from jcreore.wordpress.com)

Having stayed as a guest in several back-to-the-lander friends’ yurts over the years, as well as having spent part of a college semester living in an oceanside tipi (free housing!), I can attest to how sleeping in a white-walled, round shelter somehow feels spiritually uplifting. Or perhaps it is the lack of clutter, the simplicity of lifestyle, the gorgeous setting, or the combination of all these things that feeds the soul more robustly than dwelling within the squared walls of a solid house.

Reinvigorating the spirit with a return to simplicity was the same motivation that impelled 19th and early 20th century rusticators to flock away from cities into the wilds.

(from newyorkhistoryblog.com)

 

(Camping on Lake George, NY in 1919 – from newyorkupstate.com)

Yet the rusticators of yore also wanted their creature comforts at the end of a day exploring the wilderness, which gave rise to the elegant Great Camp style that we still appreciate in lodges, inns, and private homes today.

Dining room in an Adirondack Great Camp on Upper Saranac Lake, circa 1903 (archives of The Adirondack Museum)

The recent rise in popularity of “glamping” (glamorous camping), in which resort-style amenities are paired with overnights in simple structures such as yurts and tents, reveals that not much has changed in the desires of the rusticator demographic. Glamping proprietors proudly advertise tents provisioned with queen beds, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, mini-fridges, coolers, fans, heaters, electric lights, bath amenities, and lounge chairs. Flush toilets, hot showers, and sometimes gourmet meals are available just a short walk beyond the tent flaps.

(from sandypinescamping.com)

 

(from lakedale.com)

At a certain point one has to wonder, why not just stay at a luxury inn that is situated in a gorgeous, isolated setting?

(fogoislandinn.ca)

I suppose novelty is one motivation for choosing glamping over a traditional luxury inn – experiencing how it feels to sleep in a traditional Adirondack guide tent, for instance.

(from poshprimitive.com)

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Rustic Meets Modern in a Collector’s Home

09.12.2016

Given the come-and-go nature of buying and selling antiques as dealers, we do not typically have the range of rustic furniture in stock at any one time to furnish every room of a house, or even to showcase one idyllic room setting. Therefore, it is a pleasure to present these photos from the home of a couple that has been collecting hickory furniture and rustic accessories for about 25 years. Over several decades they have honed their focus and continued to upgrade, thereby creating a curated treasury of pieces that manifest their personal tastes.

Two things set their home apart from many of the settings in which we’ve seen rustic collections. The first is that their collection resides in the home they live in every day, rather than in a vacation home. Secondly, they live in a mid-century house with white walls, rather than in a log or wood-paneled rustic home.

They are equally passionate about furniture, primarily antique Indiana hickory and Arts & Crafts genres, and accessories. Their accessories include art pottery made during the first decades of the 20th century by Ohio artisan Charles Walter Clewell, “weird wood” (a type of woodcraft created in many forms as rustic souvenirs in the early 20th century, in which the bark is left partially intact on the finished pieces), and animal carvings.

Old hickory furniture

This photo of their den shows examples of each of their collecting interests. The shelves flanking the fireplace contain an amazing collection of Clewell pottery. The hearth, coffee table and plinths hold pieces of weird wood. There are also a few animal carvings on the coffee table, and the two rustic floor lamps are carved to resemble tree trunks. Finally, there is a fine pair of Old Hickory barrel arm chairs with woven aprons. Their grey cat finds the chair on the right to be especially comfortable.

Old Hickory

Another view of the same room provides a better look at one of the Old Hickory chairs, and shows a hickory center table, a pair of weird wood tankards, and a table lamp with a carved bear.

Old Hickory furniture and Clewell pottery

This vignette displays elements from two of their collections – a rare form of Indiana hickory wall shelf and an Old Hickory dresser each holds pieces of Clewell pottery.

Old Hickory furniture

In an adjacent study, the collection themes continue – Clewell + weird wood + animal carvings + Old Hickory. Every piece is selected with a connoisseur’s eye. Some of the weird wood, such as the plaque in the middle left edge of the photo, features applied pot metal animals including deer, elk and moose. The Old Hickory chair whose back is shown in the lower right foreground is an uncommon 1940s modern design with its original nylon tape weaving. Juxtaposed with the rustic collections are a Frank O. Gehry cardboard “wiggle” chair and the original poster from a Marcel Duchamp exhibit featuring his Fountain piece, as photographed by Alfred Stieglitz. Keep Reading

Figural Burl Frame

02.22.2016

We are constantly on the hunt for quality rustic accessories, so feel rewarded when we find something as fantastic as this frame. It embodies the essence of rustic creativity – transforming natural materials into aesthetically pleasing and functional furnishings.

figural burl frame

The frame dates from an early era of rustic design, circa 1890-1900, and originated in the northeastern United States. It was most likely made in southern New England or New York, as it is similar to other burl-decorated pieces we have found from New York’s Hudson Valley region.

burl deer frame

It has a solid wooden frame backing that is covered in applied root burls and twigs. The burls are slabbed with flat backs so that they fit flush against the frame.

 

Figural Burl Frame

Some of the tendril-like root twigs on the frame are intact with the burls from which they grew. Additional root tendrils are applied over and around the burls to enhance the natural, intertwined appearance of a root mass while lending sculptural interest to the frame.

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Genres of Antiques for Rustic Décor

10.19.2015

Adirondack Museum Antiques Show

(Adirondack Museum photo)

The Adirondack Museum Antiques Show & Sale, held every fall in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, is a perfect place (in an inspiring setting) for rustic home owners to find the types of antiques they favor.

On the last morning of the show this year, I had a little time to shoot photos in many of the booths to gather images of the array of antiques for sale. This selection is not exhaustive of the categories of antiques that we and other dealers seek and sell for rustic homes, but it represents some of the typical offerings at this long-running show in the Adirondacks.

The antiques show is held outdoors on the Museum grounds, which presents challenges for setting up booths that are evocative of the upscale indoor spaces that are the ultimate destinations for many of the antiques. Despite the potential wet grass, uneven terrain, low light, rain, dew and (sometimes hurricane force) winds, customers who know what they like can see past the conditions and home in on individual objects that catch their eye. So here is a sampling of things that caught my eye as representing popular categories of rustic décor.

WALL DECOR

Fine Art

Landscape paintings are a natural fit for rustic homes that are nestled into their own beautiful surroundings. Paintings of lakes and mountains, whether depicting an identifiable local region or simply evocative of one, are understandably popular in the Adirondacks.

Saratoga Fine Art

Saratoga Fine Art

Prints and Posters

Plants and animals can look almost as appealing in ink on paper as they do in real life.

Anne Hall Fine Antique Prints

Anne Hall Fine Antique Prints

Chimney Corner Antiques

Chimney Corner Antiques

Signs

There are all kinds of vintage trade, cottage, and roadside signs at the show, ranging in age from the 1890s to the 1970s. Their creative and quirky presence is a refreshing respite from the standardized, too-good-to-be-real reproductions found in gift shops throughout the Adirondacks.

Loose Moose Antiques

Loose Moose Antiques

Snow Shoes

Snow shoes vary widely in age and style, whether hand-made or manufactured. Older Native American snow shoes especially have aesthetic appeal, and can also have high value depending on their rarity, decoration, condition and historic importance.

Pastime Antiques

Pastime Antiques

Canoe Paddles

Paddles with colorful paint, as well as those with sculptural forms such as Native American and Adirondack guide boat paddles, can make a striking decorative statement hanging on interior walls.

Cotton's Antiques

Cotton’s Antiques

Pastime Antiques

Pastime Antiques

FLOOR COVERINGS

Oriental Carpets

The muted hues and stylized geometric and floral designs of antique oriental carpets make an elegant base layer to set off rustic furnishings.

1880 House

1880 House

Navajo Rugs

Traditional Adirondack Great Camps always included Native American art within their décor, and Navajo rugs with crisp geometrics and simple color schemes continue to be popular floor coverings for rustic abodes.

1880 House

1880 House

FURNITURE

Indiana Hickory

Hickory furniture is always well represented at this antiques show as it typically forms the core furnishings of great rooms, bedrooms and porches of rustic homes in the Adirondacks and all across the country.

Parrett/Lich Inc.

Parrett/Lich Inc.

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Snow Shoes with Provenance

03.18.2015

Tlingit snow shoes

It is always rewarding to find a quality artifact of the material culture of indigenous peoples (such as the First Nations in Canada and Native Americans in the U.S.), but even better when its provenance is known. More often than not the story behind an antique’s previous owners is lost in time, but in the case of these snow shoes we know quite a bit about their owner and collection history.

Chris Henne's study

The snow shoes on display in Chris Henne’s study, circa 1900.

These snow shoes were acquired by Christian Henne II on a trip to the Klondike in 1897. They were passed down in his family until they were recently sold by his now elderly granddaughter. They are in remarkably good condition, having hung on a wall since they were acquired 118 years ago. Tribal members would reweave their own snow shoes whenever the babiche wore out, but they would reuse the same frames for many years. Since neither the weaving nor frames of these snow shoes show signs of heavy use, they had most likely been recently made when given as a gift to Henne.

What is particularly intriguing about this rare form of snow shoes is that they were made by a cultural group (Tlingit) and within a region (Pacific Northwest Coast) that are not typically associated with snow travel accoutrements. However, the Northwest Coast Tlingit peoples also occupy less temperate regions away from the immediate coast, eastward into the mountainous region of the Yukon, which explains why snow shoes were part of some Tlingit tribes’ tradition.

Tlingit map

The Snow Shoes

Tlingit snow shoes

These snow shoes are a style made by Inland Tlingit, which includes the tribes (called Kwáan) Áa Tlein Ḵwáan of the Atlin Lake area, Deisleen Ḵwáan of the Teslin Lake area, and T’aaku Kwáan of the Taku River basin.

Tlingit groups

(http://www.ankn.uaf.edu)

 

tlingit snow shoes upturned toes

They have two-piece birch frames, bent into rounded, upturned toes where the wood is spliced and lashed together.

tlingit snow shoe toe

The frames are dyed red, and the fine weaving is either babiche (strips of semi-tanned hide) or sinew (dried tendons). The middle of the snowshoe where the foot is placed has wider weave, laced with stronger strips of rawhide.

Tlingit snow shoes foot section

While men usually made the frames, both men and women wove the netted sections of the shoes.

Native woman weaving snow shoes

(Library of Congress, circa 1900)

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Owl Bookends

12.30.2013

owl bookends

These bookends fit within several categories of collectibles, each with its own world of variation:  figural cast iron, bookends, and owls.  For our audience interested in rustic décor, it is more likely the owl form that will have primary appeal, with their value as uncommon vintage cast iron figures in excellent condition, as well as their usefulness as bookends, being secondary attractions.

owl bookends

For collectors of figural cast iron such as bookends and door stops, condition and rarity are important attributes. These bookends (6” high, 4.25” wide, 2.25” deep) retain their pristine original surface, painted in shades of yellow, green, brown, silver and black.

owl bookends

 The form is a stylized owl rather than a portrayal of a particular species – it captures the essence of owl anatomy including large, forward-facing eyes, a facial disk with shortened feathers, and an upright posture.

owls

(Barred owl photo from adenabrook.org)

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