By Sara Anne Donnelly
Photographed by Danielle Sykes
From our January 2022 issue
In the early aughts, when Devin Mauch was a teenager, his mother gave him a pyrography kit for Christmas. It was a basic model — an electric woodburning pen and three tips, called nibs — for trying out the art of writing and drawing with fire on wood, leather, and other materials. It might have seemed like a good fit for a kid who loved art, but the burner was clunky and its lines crude, and it languished in a box in his basement for years.
Fast forward to 2012, when Mauch, a year out of college, wanted a new artistic outlet. He decided to revisit pyrography, and his grandmother gave him a few coaster-size cedar discs to burn. At the time, he was playing drums in the folk-rock band the Ballroom Thieves, and after upgrading his woodburner, he etched the band’s name onto the discs and sold them from the merch cart after shows.
During the ensuing years of nearly nonstop touring, Mauch would recharge at home in Portland by spending hours hunched over his woodburning pen, making intricate images inspired by camping trips and what he describes as the precarious interplay between nature and people. “It was my therapy, just sitting alone in my room and methodically burning and developing the craft,” he says. In late 2020, while the pandemic made touring impossible, Mauch quit the band to launch the Wild Electric, selling fine-art pyrography alongside serving platters, beer flights, paddles, and other functional pieces. “Going full-time with this, I was really afraid I was going to burn out, pun intended,” he says. “But I haven’t. Woodburning is the closest thing to meditation that I’ve ever accomplished.”
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How much do you miss touring with the band?
At first, there was a bit of heartbreak, not having a constant flow of travel. But I’ve fallen in love with the freedom to travel the way I want to. In the band, we were in and out of a city each day and passing by national parks. Now, I do tons of backpacking and camping trips and fishing around the Northeast.
That outdoorsy spirit comes through in your pyrography.
My work is a nod to an ideal world where people aren’t harming the environment — we’re just living together. I’m trying to remind people that the relationship between humans and nature is ever-present and we should work toward it being a symbiotic one.
Are you burning anything unusual at the moment?
A guitar — the second one I’ve done. This one is going to be scary because it’s acoustic, so it’s thin and I have to be very careful. If I burn too heavy or turn my head for five seconds, I could burn through it. It’s for a pretty significant artist, Taylor Meier, of the folk trio Caamp, so if I mess up his guitar — ugh. It’ll be 100 percent attention the entire time, not the zen-out burn I usually do.
How dire is a mistake on a less-delicate project?
One of my favorite things about pyrography is that if you make a mistake, you have to go with the flow. It really forces me to practice letting mistakes become new things that define a piece. Woodburning is slow, so as long as I’m patient, I usually don’t make a big mistake. But when I do, it’s charming to me.