Pyrography, otherwise known as poker art, has been a form of creative expression, probably since fire was invented. My first foray into pyrography was back in 1981, when I was at the Cook Street Market in Auckland. One saturday morning, my Mum and I drove the hour trip to the market. I spied a poker machine, for sale for $18. I enquired as to what it was and the explanation, satisfied my curiosity and I purchased the said machine. It did not have a thermostate so you could not control the heat of the wire nib. It would glow red and my control method was to blow on the nib to cool it down so it would not burn into the wood so deeply.
For a year or so, I would travel to Cook street market and set up a stall to sell my pokered boards, spoons and other wooden items. I met up with a woodworker, who made the most exquisite wooden boards of all sizes and shapes. Wiremu was his trade name and it was the beginning of a long friendship through our love of all things wooden.
Over the next 2 decades, I pokered boards and sold them where I was living. (Franklin area of south Auckland.) I fell in love with pokering pictures of older style houses. I would photograph farm sheds and houses on my travels around NZ and use them for my poker work subjects. On a visit to Glasgow, Scotland in 1983, I purchased wooden bread bins, pokered them and sold them. I was “commissioned” to poker a pictures of the Wickets hotel, in Glasgow. I bought a kitchen cupboard door and used that. (It was about 1 metre by half a metre in size.) For many years, it hung on the wall of a bar in the Wickets hotel, which overlooked a cricket pitch. I received 60 pounds for the work. I was there for 3 months in the spring and summer and I had more money at the end of my stay, than I had started with!
In 1986, a group of artists and craftsfolk, set up the Onewhero Craft Market, and I sold my work there. Mum, who was the most amazing craft person, as she could sew anything you could think of. She made windsocks, so she set up her stall at the market. These markets were great and were very popular at the time. I was teaching at Onewhero Area School, and I introduced my students to poker art when I bought a machine that had 4 outlets. They loved it, because it had an immediacy and anyone could do it, without any need for talent!
I moved to Rotorua, NZ in 1988 and not working full time, meant that I had time to do poker work and I would set up my stall at the Rotorua soundshell market on some saturday mornings. Over the years, I have continued to have poker art as part of my recreational teaching with students. The first 4 handset machine, that I purchased in 1988, from a firm in Ngaruawahia, cost $200. Last year, I purchased an identical machine and the cost was $600.
Lynmore Primary School, where I teach, follows the fish philosophy, and we have a wooden box, into which we “post” messages of positive affirmation for members of the 50 staff members. Each Friday at morning interval, several slips are retrieved from the box and chocolate fish and other goodies are given to those whose name appears on the slip of paper. The following photos are of each side of the box, detailing some of my work. The photo at the beginning of this blog, is the top.
I enjoy almost sculpting the surface of the wood with the nib of the poker machine. The box is made of pinus radiata , commonly known as pine. NZ grows pine better than it`s native countries (South American countries.) The wood is difficult to get an even burn because it is soft in the light parts and hard in the darker area. It is still a fun wood to poker though.