E-Museum of Pyrographic Art
Antique Pyrography Tools Exhibit
to the Salon of
Lawrence Willmore Pennington
aka "Lon Penn"
Describing His Burnt Wood Panels
and Electric Pyrography Tool
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Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County
By Ellery Bicknell Crane,
with a detailed account (pp. 192–194) of the life and works of LAWRENCE WILLMORE PENNINGTON who resided in Worcester County, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
English born artist Lawrence Willmore Pennington was a contemporary of J. William Fosdick and Patty Thum. He immigrated to the United States twice in his lifetime. The first time he was only two years old and his father died on the journey. The boy returned home to England with his mother and brother a few years later. He grew up there and then studied the profession of a goldsmith and jeweler, which is how he made his living thereafter. When he returned to the United States, he stayed at first in Providence, Rhode Island, but ultimately settled in Worcester County where his story is written in the book shown above.
Following is an excerpt (the pyrography part) from his biography (pp. 192–194) found at the link here. What is telling about his discovery of pyrography and his devising first a hand tool and then an electric one is that the years coincide with first, J. Wm. Fosdick's 1891 article in the Art Interchange magazine and then the later description of Fosdick's thermo-pyrography tool in an 1894 article in that magazine, followed by Patty Thum's description of her electric tool in the following issue that year, all of which suggest that L. W. Pennington may well have been a subscriber to the Art Interchange magazine:
"...in 1891, after he had become interested in pyrography, he invented a poker for the work, and in 1894 devised the electric pencil, for permanent writings and drawings on glass, china and all delicate surfaces....
He has a burnt wood picture in the Dublin Art Gallery and a portrait of President Roosevelt in the White House. It is as an artist in burnt wood that Mr. Pennington has made himself famous. He was a few years ago conceded to be the best artist in burnt wood in this country.
Pyrography has become in the last few years the most attractive and popular form of art among all classes and ages. The beautiful and skillful work of Mr. Pennington has done as much to inspire the devotion to this form of art as anything else. His exhibitions have interested many to learn how to do burnt wood pictures.
When Mr. Pennington began to burn pictures on wood he found the art in a crude state. He broke away from the conventional scrolls and designs and attempted successfully pictures requiring delicate shading and coloring. He was probably the first artist to make a distinctly successful picture of nude figures in burnt wood.
The first large production which is now famous, is the "Diana's Hunting Party," owned by J. F. Regan, of Worcester. This picture brings out in elaborate detail thirteen figures over fifteen inches in height, while the effect of foliage and water is produced very naturally and effectively. This picture is as large as the original painting, eight feet long and forty-two inches in width. The original painting by Hans Makart in the Metropolitan Art Museum of New York is one of the best known productions of any artist. At the time Mr. Pennington made this beautiful specimen of his art, it was pronounced the largest, most elaborate and artistic specimen of pyrography ever produced. Mr. Pennington has made many hundreds of pictures since he began to study burnt wood art. He has been a prize winner in exhibitions in New York, Chicago and Boston, besides numerous exhibitions in smaller cities. One collection of his pictures was exhibited in London and Germany.
Among his best are "Reveries" and "The Golden Age." While much of his work is original in design,
he has made very artistic reproductions of many famous paintings, such as Rosa Bonheur's "Head of a Lion," Paul Potter's "Head of a Bull and Cow," "Lion in His Cage," and "Words of Comfort," which is a specially fine piece of work representing an aged woman reading to her husband, sick in bed.
Another large production of Mr. Pennington's is the "Battle of Newbern," which is forty-four inches in
length and fourteen in width, containing four hundred and thirty different figures. He made for Nathan I. Durlech, of New York, a reproduction of "Nymphs and Satyr," a well known painting. Another specimen
of his best work is "Bacchante Awakening," a life size nude figure, beautifully drawn and colored.
It is fifty-four inches by seventy-two inches in size. It is a copy of the painting by Frederick Kraus.
Another large work is a reproduction of Le Quesne's "The Daughters of Menistho," four feet five and
three-fourth inches by six feet, one inch. The "Nymphs and Satyr" picture was the largest of all,
being six feet by nine and a half. One of his most successful collections of burnt etchings consisted
of portraits of members of the Mitchell familv of London, made from photographs. It is impossible
to give an adequate idea of the extent and variety of Mr. Pennington's work with poker and
aluminum pencil. He received much assistance from his daughter, Lavinia, who was also a clever artist.
Mr. Pennington has never joined any secret orders and is not a club man. Most of his burnt wood
pictures were produced at home evenings. For the past thirteen years he has resided at No. 13 June street, Worcester."
This glowing account of L. W. Pennington's works is most intriguing. The claim found here that he was conceded to be the best artist in the country is perplexing since this is the only account found of his works so far and not one work by him has turned up as yet. Research is underway in the hope of locating some of the works cited here.
UPDATE—December 2010: Two panels by L. W. Pennington have come to light and are now on exhibit in the E-Museum at the link here.
UPDATE—July 2011: Three pieces of fine furniture believed to be by Leroy, in the circle of L. W. Pennington have come to light and are now on exhibit in the E-Museum at the link here.
If you have either any questions to ask or any information to offer regarding Lawrence Willmore Pennington's burnt wood works, please e-mail the E-Museum Curator.
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© 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.
Updated 10 December 2010. Last updated 16 July 2011.