portrait made by burning pine with magnifying glass
AGENCY - Nearly 90 hours hunched over a pine board. Almost as many
waiting for the weather to be just right. Thousands of tiny burned
dots. A handful of magnifying glasses, one brush and the sun.
what it took for Jon Beartusk to create what he hopes will be a
personal gift to president-elect Barack Obama.
decided to start this by faith when he came (to Crow Agency) in
May," he explained. "To show my faith that he would become
the next president. And I finished it on Oct. 30, just before the
35, created a poster-sized portrait of Obama by focusing sunlight
through magnifying glasses to burn the image - a little-used technique
called solar pyrography - onto a pine board, which Beartusk hopes
to be able to present to him in person in the near future.
Beartusk has already sent letters to and met with a number of Montana
politicians, including Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Sens. Max Baucus and
Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg, asking for their help in getting
the portrait to Obama.
pyrography is a time-consuming art form. Beartusk - who creates
mostly portraits - said he often will stay up all night, sometimes
12 hours at a time, working on a piece, drawing the image onto the
board or using a firm brush finishing one of his works. Many of
his works take more than a month to complete, and he spent 85 hours
on the Obama piece.
uses standard, everyday magnifying glasses, focusing the sun's rays
to meticulously burn an image, one dot at a time, onto the board.
Smaller lenses are used for finer detail, while larger ones create
backgrounds and darken large areas.
you make a mistake, you can't change it," he said. "You
can't erase it."
the image has been created, Beartusk then uses a soft but firm brush
- similar to a paintbrush - to clear off the ash and expose a bit
of the wood grain to add texture to the image.
makes it look almost like a cloud or a mist," he said.
said he likes to create large shadows in each image "to leave
a lot to the imagination." He also prefers to burn most of
the background to make the image stand out.
of his works are portraits of people from the past. Beartusk, of
Northern Cheyenne and Crow heritage, said he welcomes the chance
to bring light to remind people of their history. His portraits
include images of Crow and Northerne Cheyenne warriors, Gen. George
A. Custer and Jesus.
more than pretty pictures," he explained. "God had me
do this because he wants me to get some of these great historic
figures that are in books closed on coffee tables out into the open."
has been working full time as an artist for about two years. He
has pieces in the Gallatin River Gallery and Deck the Walls, has
signed an agent and has completed a portrait of an international
soccer star for Nike.
it wasn't always that way. He has been practicing solar pyrography
for only about four years, and it took a little nudging to even
get him to show his first works to people.
was so embarrassed and shy," he said.
started when he was working in a coffee kiosk near Little Big Horn
Battlefield he owned with his wife, Miram Knows His Gun-Beartusk.
A friend would drop off copies of old magazines off, which Beartusk
would read during work.
day, he came across a copy of the May/June 1980 issue of Mother
Earth News. In it, an artist named Daniel Leahy talked about making
a living through solar pyrography. Beartusk tried his hand at it
and put a few pieces up at the kiosk.
I saw that people were excited by it, I started setting the pieces
outside and before long I sold them all," he said.
all that, his mother, Jennifer Copley, of Missoula, urged him for
two years to explore his artistic abilities.
called him every weekend," Knows His Gun-Beartusk said. "Eventually
he ran out of excuses."
the past four years, he taught himself the intracicies of solar
pyrography and, after about two years of thinking about it and with
the support of friends and family, they sold the kiosk and Beartusk
became a full-time artist in October 2007.
Obama image Beartusk used for his portrait is based on the cover
of the March 20, 2008, issue of Rolling Stone.
seriousness of the picture portrayed the seriousness of this election,"
he was adopted by the Crow Tribe on May 20, Obama was given the
name "Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish," which means "one
who helps people throughout the land."
Crow name is inscribed near the bottom of the portrait. It's a simple
image of Obama from the neck up, with a representation of the presidential
seal behind him. Almost the entire background is burned a dark brown,
consistent with Beartusk's style.
he still hasn't received word that he will be able to present the
portrait in person, he is hopeful and confident it will come to
be. And, if nothing else, he is just happy to be doing what he is
feel honored to use the same sun that gave life and strengthened
vision for my ancestors," he said.
Zach Benoit at firstname.lastname@example.org