‘This is from the caveman days, when they put a stick in fire and would write on walls.” Jo Schwartz.
By GAIL PARSONS
Many children have received a basic wood burning kit for Christmas or their birthday and tinkered with the wood-burning tool, carving simple pictures or signs. They are playing with a modern version of an art form that dates back to the planet’s earliest people.
Jo Schwartz however, has taken that hobby to an artistic extreme. From her studio Burning Tree Art located in Old Abilene Town, she uses the basic wood burning process to create complex pictures with intricate detail and portraits as good as any painter or photographer “This is from the caveman days, when they put a stick in fire and would write on walls,” she said.
Schwartz started playing around with the art of pyrography about eight years ago. Always a creative person, she was on the lookout for something new to try.
“I started by accident. I was trying to do something with wood, and I can’t whittle as it turns out,” she said.
That little experiment with whittling led to wood burning. She can’t paint and she doesn’t draw but put a piece of wood and a hot sharp object in her hands and she’ll burn you a picture.
“I am self taught,” she said. “I went online and found other burners. I would send pictures of my pieces to a person in Romania and someone in Australia and they would critique it.”
As she learned and honed her skill, people started turning to her for direction and lessons. In time, the natural evolution of her work led her to seeking out space for a studio. As most artists will attest, Schwartz had many more pieces piling up at her house than she knew what to do with.
“I saw an ad in the paper that there was space available in Old Abilene Town. I walked in and saw the paneling and said ‘nobody but me’ (would take the space),” she said.
The ambiance of the room which at one time was the old clock repair shop, is perfect with its light wood paneling that blends a touch of rustic with the sophistication of quality art.
“I have the best studio anyone can ask for and tourism right here at the front door,” she said.
Visitors can come in and view her pieces, or watch her work from a small, well-lit desk. Her tools are very simple: a computer to keep a reference picture on to guide her as she works, wood (basswood is her favorite canvas but she has no aversion to maple, birch, plywood, or others), and a simple wood burning tool.
“I thought if I can get an expensive machine I could do so much more, but I found out I can get the same results with the inexpensive tool,” she said.
If left alone, she gets into “the zone” and can burn for hours. The enjoyment, she said, comes from watching the wood change each time she touches the hot tool to it.
“I work in layers. I don’t just scorch it on there,” she said. “It’s slow and steady work.”
She starts with a picture. If it is a picture that is not in the public domain, she will contact the artist and request permission to use it. Then she’ll make a black and white pattern from the picture that will be transferred to the wood and serve as guidelines for the burning.
This is one in a series of articles featuring Abilene artists and craftsmen. If you would like to recommend an artist to be featured please e-mail Gail Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org.