Bilateral amputee artist expresses himself through pyrographic art
By Bill Vossler
When Pat Fouquette of Sauk Rapids was eight years old, his uncle Lenny said he loved what Pat was doing with his drawing. “He said, ‘You’re good at drawing, so after I’m back from Korea, I’ll give you 25 cents for every picture you draw.”
Pat did not have to be told again. He taught himself how to draw, and drew and drew, and when his uncle returned after the Korean war, Pat was ready with over $2,000 worth of drawings.
“When he came back,” Pat said, “he didn’t have a dime. But when Christmas came around, he bought me a sparkling new bicycle, and that kind of repaid me.”
Painting to Pyrographics
When Pat was younger, he painted really well. “While doing some of those paintings, I just thought I’d try a different medium. I had the end of a log cut off, and I was wondering what I was going to do with it. I started drawing on it, got a wood burner, and when I burned it, darned if it didn’t come out good, almost by accident. I did the piece for my son.”
Then he started buying equipment made especially for the woodburning hobby like his Colwood Super Pro. “It’s a professional pyrographic machine that will burn the way you want to. If I want a light burn, I can control the heat down so I get a light burn. If I want a dark burn, I can do that. I have a number of drawings where you can see the light and dark together work good.”
He also started buying bigger sheets and types of wood, mostly clear, and that’s kind of how he got started.
“Then I thought I would maybe make it into a fine art, not just a hobby art.”
That transition was made more challenging due to health issues. Pat suffers from Buerger’s Disease, an arterial issue which worsened to a point where both legs were eventually amputated below the knee.
“Because I’m a bilateral amputee I didn’t have the opportunity to go out and promote my art. I didn’t get to shows. I did do one piece and showed it at the Minnesota State Fair eight years ago, and got a blue ribbon on it. So I’ve just kept on doing it. So everybody I know gets a piece at Christmas.”
With all his work, Pat first draws the image he’s going to produce in pencil, whether it’s on the wood, his preferred media now, or other media when he was doing paintings. The image comes from photos in books, pictures he has on hand, or anything that will help him get the drawing accurate.
“To do my best work I want an example on hand to get the drawing accurate. I did a drawing of Abe Lincoln from different pieces I saw on the internet.” he said. With his pyrographic work he has done all kinds of scenes, boats, old-time ships, animals, and more.
“Every drawing I do is sketched out lightly with pencil and follow that along pyrographically, improving it here and there as I work. If any pencil marks show on the wood, I erase them.”
At times he makes errors, he said, resulting in one of two things: “Either I have to throw it away, even if I’m in the middle of a really good drawing, or else I use a small grinder with a sanding disk on it to sand it off a little bit. Then I hand sand it a little bit, and I do get by with that. Generally you can hardly notice it. I can just scratch it off if it’s only lightly burned. But I try to be careful that I don’t make mistakes.”
Sometimes his mistakes can be corrected in another way. “If I make an oops on a mountain, for example, I add something to it so it looks natural on the side of the mountain. But that doesn’t work on a portrait. That is when I’m really careful.”
He was able to recover from an error and fix it on a just-finished drawing of mountains that will go to a museum in Kenai, Alaska. “You can’t tell the difference,” he said.
That drawing has big history behind it too, Pat says. “Back in the mid-1800s when workers were building the railroad through Kenai Peninsula, my neighbor’s grandfather’s brother brought moose meat to the workers, so they started calling him ‘Moosemeat John,’ and that’s a picture of him to go along with the train.”
Soft Wood Works Best
Smooth soft woods work best for his drawings, he said. “I get wood that is square, nicely cut, and sanded. Most of the stuff that I started with pine. Ash and oak are too hard, although oak has both a soft and hard grain, so when I burn a soft grain on it, it burns like crazy. You can tell which spot is soft and which is hard by the difference in grains. Basswood is the best, because it doesn’t have a grain, it’s white, and it burns easily.”
The time involved in making one of his drawings on wood varies considerably. “Some small examples I can do in two or three hours, my favorite animals, raccoons and horses. They are kind of fun to do, and I thought if I ever get to a show, people could buy them for $25-30 instead of $300 for the big ones. Sometimes others, like the train, take me much longer. That one took me five months. Now that’s not working every day eight hours a day, but periodically on it for two three four hours at a time. It’s a very slow type of art, and the reason it’s slow is to prevent me from making mistakes.”
He will do requests, usually portraits, or a certain bird or animal. “I can do just about anything. Name what you want and I’ll draw it.“
After doing hundreds of pyrographic pieces, Pat has a couple of favorites that he‘s done. “The one I like the best is a very simple kind of a night scene with the moon shining on the water deep in the woods with a cabin there, and smoke coming out of the chimney. The one I recently did of Alaska is one of my favorites too.”
He says his work is generally all very detailed because he’s confined to home a lot, being an amputee and in a wheelchair. “So I have a lot of time in the house, especially in the winter.”
“My pyrographic art is kind of like the old steel engravings, a lot of dark and sharp like that.”
Pat said his crowning achievement was an acrylic painting of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who was assassinated, he painted about 20 years ago. “His wife Jehan was at St. John’s to get an honorary degree in Egyptian culture, so they presented the painting to her. I got a wonderful note from her where she said it turned out very good and she loves it. Sometimes when that happens I think I should have stuck with painting watercolors or oil or acrylic paintings. But woodburnings are unique, and there are few people who do what I do. I’m very skilled and professional, and you have to see them to realize what they are.”
Pat said he had wanted to talk to Jehan Sadat afterwards, so he sat in his wheelchair out front when she came out, but when her guards saw him, they opened their coats to show their guns, so he figured he didn’t dare say anything. “But she wrote that nice letter after that.”
People Love Them
“People are pretty flabbergasted when they see my work. One artist wanted me to teach him, and I kind of wish I had gone back done a little teaching about it at times, but I’m too old for that now,” the 82-year-old said.
Pat likes to give his pyrographic drawings away, he said. “I started giving pictures that I’d done to different people, and all my family have a number of pictures. I’ve also got about 30 of them here in my house, hanging all over.”
Pat said to do what he does requires a gift of art and a will to create. “I suppose you have to have a steady hand, too,” he added.