E-Museum of Pyrographic Art

Antique Art Hall


to the Exhibit of

J. William Fosdick's
May 1909 article


Back to E-Museum Entrance

by J. William Fosdick, May 1909, Vol. I, No. 8

Adapted from Palette and Bench Magazine, Syracuse, N.Y., 1908–1909, Vol. I, Nos. 3–12, pp. 182–184.

As with all of J. William Fosdick's many articles on pyrography, where despite an inevitable redundancy among them, this one, written for Palette and Bench in 1909, adds some interesting and important new pieces of information to spark further research.

For starters, Fosdick has given all pyrographic artists a new personal motto—
"I burn but I purify"!
He offers the historic background and artistic interpretation for that saying, as well. (One can only wonder how long it will be until it starts appearing on mugs, T-shirts, and bumper stickers worldwide.) Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, it is apparent in that fourth paragraph where he introduces his motto, and the subsequent two where he explains in more detail, that he took this idea very much to heart. He was in France studying art when he produced his first large repertoire of panels for his professors in 1888 upon completing his studies. The French influence in his work and in his philosophy of art was very much a part of who he was as an artist by then. Apparently that influence included his admiration for King Francis I and "the Salamander emblazoned upon his shield." For those first works (e.g., Evening and Lady Godiva) and for at least one done in New York in 1890 (Rose), Fosdick used a little logo of a Salamander on the recto of his panels.

Fosdick details nicely the process used by primitive pyrographic artists, and shows much respect and admiration for early works in this art form, even while, as he has so often expressed in the past, he disparages greatly the amateur pyrography movement of the turn of the century, calling it "...the new malady of 'pyromania' [that swept] over two continents."

The most exciting part of this article is that it introduces a lovely panel entitled "The Welcome" that was heretofore unknown to the E-Museum. This is particularly interesting because this work was not even mentioned in a comprehensive 1971 article that catalogued the Evans collection. It is even more exciting upon reading its caption that states it is "One in a series of panels in the house of Wm. T. Evans Esq., Montclair, N.J."

In this particular article, Fosdick offers a substantial amount of technical advice to pyrographic artists, much of it still relevant today. In addition, he cites other works he has done, especially for the private libraries of wealthy patrons, and at least one of those commissions, on antique black oak, was unknown before. Unfortunately, he did not provide the name of the patron for that commission.

For the first time, Fosdick talks here of his own experimentation with an electric tool. He also states that he tried the thermo-pyrography tool as far back as 1888! And, although he writes of Dr. Paquelin's invention of the thermo-cautery tool, he does not credit Manuel-Perier of France with the invention of the thermo-pyrography tool that grew from the former, but gives credit for it instead to the Germans.

Read the conclusion of Fosdick's THE ART OF FIRE ETCHING at the link here.

If you have either any questions to ask or any additional information to offer on this article and any works by J. William Fosdick, please e-mail the E-Museum Curator.

You are leaving the exhibit of
J. William Fosdick's
1909 Palette and Bench article
"The Art of Fire-Etching"

You can return to the

Antique Art Hall

or continue on your tour to one of the following:

Pyrographic Art Exhibit Halls:

Portraits and Paintings

Decorative and Applied Art


Folk and Traditional Art

Children's Pyrographic Art

Special Pyrographic Art

The Book Store and E-Museum Library

Pyrography Tools and Techniques

Your questions and comments are welcome and appreciated. Please e-mail Curator.

Back to E-Museum Entrance homepage

© 2009 Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.
30 October 2009. Updated 24 February 2010. Last updated 4 November 2011.