Story by Gareth Vieira 

I met Jennifer Cahill at the Port Hope Farmers’ Market Art Festival, earlier this summer. I was drawn to the wood burnings she had on display at her stall, drawn to the work and the detail of each piece. 

Pyrographic Art, or wood burning, is an art form that has been around since the 1700’s. Although Jennifer does her work completely free hand, traditionally, wood burning is done using traces or burning directly onto the wood.

“I feel that because I work free hand each piece is unique, honest and has my heart and soul and no piece is the same.”
The tool Jennifer uses is similar to a soldering pen with different tips to create different textures and line work. She also uses a blow torch for shading and other effects and sites serendipity and a tendency to work against the grain that led her to this intriguing art.

“My husband and I were renovating the kitchen and he was making cabinet doors. We didn’t want regular doors so I went to Canadian Tire and I bought a Mastercraft burner and taught my self how to burn by jumping right into burning a tree of life into each panel of the cabinet.”

A love for this art form was melded. Being a creative spirit Jennifer has always dabbled in all kinds of art projects until settling into wood burning as her preferred medium.

“I didn’t have a direct outlet and now I do,” she said. “The ability to work with the beauty of nature brings me so much joy. Each piece is a personal expression of me and the natural beauty of the wood. I always take the grain of the wood into consideration and let it inspire what I create.”

Encouraged by her mother in law, two year ago Jennifer took the steps towards showing her work in public.

“Being self-taught I was nervous that my work wasn’t good enough. I was wrong. I was met with unbelievable enthusiasm and people wanting custom pieces.”

After one year of selling her pieces, Jennifer joined the Quinte County Wood Carvers Association Competition, in the Pyrographic section which is the highest skill class.

I was up against artists, who have been burning for years, I was incredibly nervous. I won. I now have pieces for sale at the Burlington Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Northumberland.”

And in her every day, Jennifer says she dons many hats, a wife, a mother, and an artist. Since starting her own business Fire Forged by Jennifer Cahill, her life has been pleasantly busy and she feels grateful for the support of her family and friends through this venture.

“Running Fire Forged takes a lot of work,” she said. “I’m lucky to have the support of my husband Pat Cahill and wood turner Ken Lorenz and friends like Amanda Hockney, and my parents, who have looked after my kids during some of my shows. Ken Lorenz has been mentoring me in wood turning and I just recently turned my first bowl.”
When creating a portrait piece, Jennifer likes to use Birch wood as it allows her to bring many different colours of shading depending on how much exposure to the heat or flame is given to the wood. For turned pieces, such as bowls, Jennifer says Maple is great to work with.

“The wood that is used for the turned pieces is always rescued wood. Wood from trees that had to come down due to construction, danger, dying, etc. I like to give trees another life in the form of an art piece.” 

Jennifer has donated pieces to Beads of Courage, an organization that helps children who are spending time in the hospital while going through different procedures by giving them beads to collect so they can look back at how brave they had been.

Jennifer and her husband Pat moved to Port Hope four years ago with the plan of raising a family in a small town.

“A small town means knowing your neighbour, walking down a street where everyone says hello, plus my kids can play with other kids in the neighbourhood and we know they are safe.”
As an artist, Jennifer says she has had nothing but support and encouragement and is proud to tell people that she is a Port Hope artist.

The Art Gallery of Northumberland-Port Hope, currently has some of Jennifer’s prize winning pieces in the front window and they will be featuring a collection of her work, in a month long gallery show from Thursday September 21st to October 15th.

For more info on Fire Forged by Jennifer Cahill visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/4fireforged.