Master of Marquetry
By Hannah Olson
A dragonfly rests pensively on a reed. A tree frog prepares to leap. Both are captured with stunning detail in Jane Burke’s unique portraits, but not the way you may anticipate. Most artists utilize paintbrushes and pencils to create lifelike portraits. Burke’s medium of choice is maple and koa. Her method is marquetry, the art of creating detailed pictures using wood veneers from many different tree species.
Burke, born and raised in South Africa, has lived in the north Atlanta area since 1996. She was introduced to marquetry while living in Paraguay. She started out using a scroll saw to cut the veneer but quickly switched to a craft knife, which she found to be easier and more accurate. Since then, she has been honing her techniques and sharing her passion with students who attend her classes.
When Burke was asked to describe the process of marquetry, she was unable to explain it effectively in words, stating, “You can’t open a book and read about it.” The tactile nature of the craft demands hands-on attention, and typically, many years of experience before it can be truly mastered. Nevertheless, her students, many of them retired and new to the practice, take pride and satisfaction in what they can accomplish in her one- and five-day classes.
Not only an accomplished marquetry artist and a born teacher, Burke is also a master gardener. She likens her process of marquetry composition to that of arranging plants in her garden. “It is a matter of instinct,” she says that informs her artistic process. That instinct has merited Burke numerous awards, TV appearances, and publications. She is the author of two DVDs, The Art of Marquetry and Pattern Approach for Marquetry, each demonstrating the craft and its various techniques.
When asked what piece she is most proud of, Burke recalls a recent commission for a bald eagle, one that, she describes, looked “regal.” “I felt like I really got it right,” she says.
Marquetry is a highly rewarding, time-conscious art. Burke has since worked on another commission for a bald eagle. She estimated that it took 15-18 hours to complete the marquetry alone, leaving the gluing and many layers of lacquering to finish the piece.
Burke’s marquetry show season is going on now and extends through November. A full listing of her show schedule, as well as gallery photos of her work, can be found on her websites: GTCreations.com and JaneBurke.com.