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The Fire Etcher's Work

Article from NY Times February 14, 1892

THE FIRE ETCHER’S WORK
BEAUTIFUL BITS OF ART THAT
ARE BURNED IN WOOD.

MR. FOSDICK’S REJUVENATION OF A
P
RIMITIVE DECORATIVE IDEA—ITS
ADAPTABILITY TO MODERN HOMES
AND CHURCHES—HOW IT IS DONE.

    “Seventy years ago an English boy and his sweetheart were making a tour of a country fair. While viewing the sights they encountered a mountebank burning pictures on wood with a hot iron. Many years later the boy, whose name was Ball Hughes, crossed the Atlantic and achieved great distinction in Boston as a sculptor and fire etcher, the remembrance of the mountebank’s work having lived long in his memory.
   There is reason to believe that Mr., Hughes, in his day, was the most successful worker in the art, although Japanese and Spanish artists had become proficient in it. It was reserved, however, for a young American, named Fosdick, of Charlestown, Mass., to disclose the greatest possibilities of fire etching and to give it a permanent place in the beautiful works of its day…”

    “…In the eye of the prophet it was clear that an old art was about to assume new beauty. It was clear, too, that in the hands of the young American (Fosdick) it had attained a character and was capable of a scope the Ball Hughes had never imagined. The English sculptor had raised it to a dignity infinitely above the clever trick of a mountebank. His burned-wood picture of Schiller looked from a distance like a fine drawing in sepia. His copy of Fusellis’s witches (of Macbeth) in rich, brown tones was strong and striking. These pictures could easily have made one believe that fire etching was a pictorial art of a high order; that, properly cultivated, it would come to rank with painting in oil or water colors…”

    Since this article was written in 1892 about an experience of Ball Hughes seventy years prior, it could have happened about 1822 when he was about 18 years old.  J. William Fosdick also relates this same experience from a meeting with Mrs. Ball Hughes after the artists death in his 1891 article Burnt Wood in Decoration from The Art Interchange, December 1891, pp. 190-191, available at Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art Salon of J. William Fosdick.  Note that a mountebank was a flamboyant deceiver who pitched his product to a crowd from an elevated platform, also known as a charlatan.

The Fire Etcher's Work preview page from New York Times

The Fire Etcher's Work full text from New York Times

See also Etching With Fire on this site for the same account of the country fair with more detail.

And don't miss the First Pokerism on this site.

Ball Hughes "The Witches of Macbeth" is mentioned in the article above may be viewed at The Antique Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art - Ball Hughes Salon No. 3.

 

last update 2/20/2010

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