March 5, 2015

Variations on a Theme: Six Prairie Style Fixtures

My blacksmith collaborator Dave Little and I have created over 30 projects together. Some are part of a series that we have come to call the "Prairie Style" lighting fixtures. That refers to an Arts and Craft style that was epitomized by Frank Lloyd Wright's work. The first piece we made in this style was actually sketched out for us by an architect for a client on Lake Sunapee. The concept was a departure for Dave and I, since all our other pieces had incorporated sweeping arc lines.  

This fixture provides the lighting for an 8' long dining table, so the shades are very large, about 18" diameter. 

The next project that we got that utilized this basic idea is installed in a beautiful new home near Lake Tahoe, and the fixture provides the illumination for a 12' long barter that divides the living area from the kitchen. I worked with the renowned interior designer Jacques St. Dizier to refine the design.  The three shades are each about 13" across.

This past Fall, we made a Prairie Style fixture for a house in New London, and this one incorporated a new design feature. The major horizontal element is curved, so it provides a historical connection with the other projects that Dave and I have collaborated on. The shades on this are particularly dramatic with streaks and even some really interesting insect tunnels. This table is smaller, and the shades are about 15" diameter.

Also this Fall, we made a fixture for a home on Squam Lake. The dark ceiling makes it hard to photograph, but "in person," the effect of this fits exactly with the modern feel of the cottage. The shade on the left is a single chandelier over the kitchen island, and the Prairie Style fixture is suspended over a long narrow dining table. The shades are about 15" diameter, and are "pendant style," meaning the wide rim is facing downwards. One thing that is different about this installation is that the ceiling is high, so we have much longer vertical cubes extending from the ceiling to the cross-bars.

As you can see from the chronology of these projects, this Prairie Style design is catching on fast with my clients. In December, I installed the fifth iteration of the design in a rebuilt home in New London. If you look closely at the top, you will see that I created a solid wood "wedge" piece that creates a flat attachment point on the sloped ceiling.

The sixth iteration of the Prairie Style concept is a radical departure, and is going to be built in the next few weeks (not sure when the installation will occur). As you can see from this drawing, all the rectilinear lines and negative spaces have been curved, and it will create a fantastic effect of organic flow and soaring lines. This home sits on a hilltop in Henniker, NH, and the dining room has a wall of windows facing south towards the Pats Peak ridge. I feel wanted the design to complement the panoramic view of the hills and now I am tempted to nickname this piece "Highlands," because it resonates with the feeling I have had in the Scottish Highlands. Other than the obvious aspect of the curved steel lines, this design also has different sized shades, configured in an arc that compliments the metalwork.

As you can see, a single overall concept can lead to a constantly evolving series of pieces for clients, each tailored to the environment of the house and the functional needs for illumination. It is part of the fun of doing this work – the creativity is endless and fruitful, the results of all this effort making such a huge difference in the lives of people.

March 1, 2015

Fresh Logs and Aged Logs

My last post was about the delivery of wonderful new logs. After I wrote that, I thought it might be worth explaining more about how and why I keep so many logs on hand.

When I first started making my lampshades almost 25 years ago, I always worked with freshly cut logs. That is what was available – in fact the first shades were from a tree right behind my garage. When I got wood from someone else, usually I would go cut down a single tree, cut that in to 20-24" sections, roll those out of the woods and on to my flatbed trailer. It was a huge physical effort, and I would work very hard to use all the sections of the tree pretty quickly. If I waited too long, there might be cracks that would form on the ends, making them unusable. The shades I made this way were essentially yellow in color, with beautiful annual ring patterns.

"Clear-look" Mini-Pendant
That method worked when I was 40 years old, and making 20-40 shades per year. And it worked because I was only making small-to-medium sized shades. But even then, I gradually started to notice that if I left a section of log in a moist and shady place for a month or two, some hints of dark streaks would show in the wood. That looked so cool, and I also noticed that my clients like it more.  I started to buy whole logs from loggers and foresters. They would usually be delivered to me on a "cherry picker," which is the logging trucks you see with the big articulating grappling arm on the top. This is much easier on my physically, and it allowed me to obtain some beautiful logs, including some really big ones. I quickly discovered that I could keep and "age" these logs for any months, sometimes even over a year. And the results were spectacular:
Moderately streaked shade, perhaps aged 5 months

This shade was aged over a year, and has insect tunnels caused by little ants
Here is the difference in what the logs look like. The first image is a freshly cut log, the second one is a log that is aged for about a year. 
A freshly cut log
Log that was aged for about 12 months
You might think that the aging of the logs would make them dry out, but actually it is only the few inches on the ends of the logs that get dry, the rest of the log is still soaking wet after many months. And that wetness of the wood attracts fungi, which is what creates the streaked patterns in the wood. After I make the lampshade, the wood dries out completely, and the fungi dies away, only the beauty of the random "artwork" of these microscopic organism remains. Of course if I wait too long, the aging process will become destructive of the wood. The fungus will eventually start to rot the wood. 

It is an amazing process. I have very little control over what the streaking will look like. I only know that it will happen if I am patient and attentive. As is so evident in our world, nature is remarkable!

February 27, 2015

New Logs, Hooray!

I get the Aspen logs for my lampshades from several local loggers and foresters, but mainly from Jack Bronnenberg (the logger for the Society of NH Forests and Proctor Academy) and Scott Astle who manages Green Crow's Log Yard in Andover, NH. Green Crow specializes in veneer quality logs, meaning logs with zero defects. And over the last few years, Scott has learned exactly what kind of logs I want, and he really came through this week.

Monday I went to the log yard and Scott showed me a wonderful selection of Aspen logs that I could pick from. Every log was a first cut. That means it is the part of the tree closest to the ground, and that in turn means fewer knots and defects. In fact every log he showed me was perfect, no evidence of knots at all. I was like a kid in a candy store... and I had to restrain myself from asking for more logs than I actually can use. I ended up choosing 16 logs, and today they were delivered and carefully placed on my "cribs" (the platforms where the logs will live until I use them. It was quite a project shoveling snow off of these cribs, in some places it was 3+ feet deep.

I will use a small amount of this wood in the next few months, but mostly these logs will wait and age and become more beautiful over time. I will use more of the new wood during the summer, and definitely this will be where I am choosing pieces of log for the shades I make this coming Autumn and next winter. I have to plan a year or more in advance to make sure I have logs with the best colors and features. 

In the meantime, I will be making most of my shades from the logs I got last Spring and Winter. They were buried in snowdrifts, so Adam, the skillful log truck operator, moved them around for me today. No they are all together and easy to get at. The logs on the right are the older ones.

Thanks Scott for looking after me and finding these fantastic logs.

February 18, 2015

NH Chronicle is doing a piece about me!

In New Hampshire, we have only three mainstream TV stations, and by far the biggest is Channel 9, WMUR in Manchester. They produce a daily show called NH Chronicle that airs right after the nightly news at 7pm, it is a hugely popular and well-produced show. Today they spent three hours in my workshop and home, filming for an 8 minute segment that will be shown in about two weeks. I just found out the air-date is this coming Thursday, March 5 at 7pm, and soon after that, the segment will be available on the WMUR website.

Audrey Cox is the reporter, and Chris worked very hard on the videography. Thanks to them for spending so much time and asking such good questions, and trying to get the right shots to illustrate the information. It will be fun to see how they edit down the huge quantity of footage in to something only 8 minutes long.

July 7, 2014

Light Bulbs..... save money, save the planet!

NOTE: This is a pamphlet I created to hand out to lamp buyers and everyone else

The History and Future of Light Bulbs
July 2014, Peter Bloch

Incandescent Bulbs: dinosaurs of the lighting world
The last ten years have seen a huge shift in the world of light bulbs. We used to all use incandescent bulbs. They were inexpensive, available everywhere, and were made in a wide variety of styles and brightness. The only trouble is, they were terribly inefficient – only 5% of the electricity consumed by incandescent bulbs is converted in to light. The rest becomes heat. This horrible wastefulness was expensive to the pocketbook and to the carbon footprint of the entire electrical grid. 

The importance of ridding our world of incandescents is why the government has banned some types. You can no longer buy incandescents under 100 watts, unless they are specialized bulbs like 3-ways or spotlights. There is an alternative called halogen bulbs, but they are not much more efficient than the incandescents. 

CFL Bulbs: efficient but unattractive lighting
The first type of energy efficient replacement bulbs were the Compact Fluorescents, also known as CFLs. These usually have a spiral shape because they are basically like the long straight fluorescent light bulbs in those ceiling fixtures, just made smaller and curled around in a tight curve. They are much more efficient (about 15%) than incandescent bulbs, and although they are usually 5-10 times the cost of the incandescents, they can pay for themselves in a year or two because of the greater efficiency. CFL bulbs have a lot of advantages, but some downsides.  The most important is that the color of the light that the bulbs emit is not very attractive. They tend towards the pale green or blue. While that color shift is not completely obvious, if you compare two lamps, one with incandescent and one with CFL, you will instantly see the difference. Most people do not like the feel of being around CFL bulbs.

Other problems are that CFL bulbs have small amounts of mercury in them, making them an environmental hazard if they are broken or improperly disposed of. Also, they don’t instantly illuminate to their peak brightness, so when you first turn a CFL on, it seems dim. Most CFLs are not dimmable, and those that are supposed to be, do a terrible job of it. Finally, CFL bulbs are rated for a wattage-equivalent to incandescent bulbs, but my perception is that this calculation is inflated. Overall, CFL bulbs are good for efficiency, but a fairly poor substitute for the wonderful warm light of the old fashioned incandescents.

LED bulbs are the future of lighting
Over the past few years, a new type of bulb has been introduced. They are called LEDs, which stands for Light Emitting Diode. At first, they were extremely expensive, and the color of the light tended to be bluish. Also most LEDs were designed for spot lights. Even when some of the LEDs came to market to be used in screw-in fixtures like table and floor lamps, they had shapes that didn’t provide light that evenly spread all around. That is a desirable characteristic known as being “omnidirectional,” and in my translucent wood lampshades, it is crucial. Also, LEDs were not bright enough to be used in my lamps. The good news is that LED bulbs are even more energy efficient than CFLs. And the technology keeps advancing, with increased efficiency.

CREE Brand LEDs, my recommendation!
In the past year, one company has come up with solutions to almost all of the issues with CFL and earlier LED bulbs. The company is CREE, they make bulbs that are manufactured in this country and they are a very big company with history of making specialized LEDs for factories, etc. When they put their mind to designing “regular” LED light bulbs, they came up with some wonderful solutions. CREE bulbs use 18% of the energy, compared to incandescents. They don’t get warm, because all the juice goes in to making light! Better yet, CREE LEDs are dimmable. Just make sure you have a dimmer switch that is designed for LEDs. 

CREE bulbs are now available in 60, 75 and 100 watt equivalents, and they just started making 3-way 100 watt equivalents. My hope and expectation is that they will soon be making 150 watt equivalents, which is the brightness I suggest for many of my lamps. CREE bulbs that are labeled “soft white” emit a wonderful color of light, basically exactly like the old incandescents. They are shaped very similarly to the old bulbs, and are truly omnidirectional. They almost last forever (rated for 23 years, guaranteed for 10). They contain no mercury. They are easy to buy, Home Depot is a major reseller. As of this writing, Home Depot sells the bulbs for these prices:
  • 40 or 60 watt: $10
  • 75 watt: $16
  • 100 watt: $21
  • 100 watt 3-way: $22
That may seem like a lot to spend for a light bulb. But if you use a light for 3 hours a day, the savings from using an LED bulb will pay for the bulb in just one year. After that, it is all savings directly to your wallet… for TWENTY YEARS!

Some CREE bulbs are available through subsidy programs run by many electricity providers, which make much less expensive. A 60 watt equivalent bulb is only $3. In NH, you can check Elsewhere, ask your electric company. Right now, the ones available tend to be the lower wattage CREE bulbs, but I expect the others to be in these subsidy programs soon. With these subsidy plans, switching to CREE LEDs is a no-brainer!

Where is this heading?
The only remaining downside to the wonderful CREE bulbs is that they max out at 100 watts. But I have observed this company coming up with many new products in a short period of time, so I am confident that we will see 150 watt equivalent CREE bulbs in the near future, and when we do, I will be completely weened off of incandescents. Until then, I still provide my larger lampshades with incandescent bulbs. I hope that is a situation that is remedied soon.

There are other types of bulbs technologies in development – perhaps LEDs are not the end of the road. But these CREE bulbs are everything we want from a light bulb, and I recommend them very highly. Wherever in your home that you have a bulb that has an equivalent CREE bulb, I hope you invest in the future of your checkbook AND the health of the planet by making the change soon. 

Questions? Send me an email and I will try to be helpful,

Peter Bloch,

January 22, 2014

Equipment Bummers

Sometimes, I get slowed down because my body is uncooperative. And sometimes, it is my equipment that fails me. That happens much less often than body issues, because I have top notch tools and machines, and maintain them well. And usually if something breaks down, I can get it up and running very quickly.

My work generally is not very dependent on machines. Obviously, the lathe is crucial; to a lesser extent my sharpening system and my chainsaw are important. Since the emphasis of my work is hand-crafting, most of the other machines here are useful, but I can keep working without them.

One machine operates in the background: my Ingersoll-Rand T-30 vertical 80 gallon, two-stage, 5 horsepower compressor. It is tucked away in a closet of my workshop, so I don't really see or hear it very much. I use the compressed air to:
  • blast air through the side-walls of my wet lampshades to dry particular areas
  • force the dust and shavings from inside the shades while I am carving
  • clean the shop every day by blasting forced air into all the nooks and crannies
  • blow off the shavings and dust from my clothes before I go back to the house
  • operate some hand-held sanding tools
Writing out that list, it doesn't seem like such a big deal; but it turns out I am practically helpless without the compressed air. This beautiful, simple machine has run faultlessly for 18 years. It is connected to a well-designed distribution system (the network of pipes and hoses that deliver the compressed air to the places I need it).

Three weeks ago, the air compressor made a very loud clunking noise that I could hear at the opposite end of my workshop, and then proceeded to shut itself down. I figured I could easily find someone to repair it – for example, the company that sold it to me those many years ago. But it turns out they are out of business, and it took a remarkable amount of research to find an alternative. Finally I did find an air compressor repair specialist in Southern NH, and two days later a tech was here. He diagnosed the problem, ordered some parts, came back two days later and 'fixed' it. Except it still didn't work. So he took the motor back to the shop, they did something simple to it and brought it back, and it worked. For one day. So then he said the entire motor needed to be replaced. And that took a couple more days.

So then it is working again, and I am out of pocket $1400+. Which is not a happy situation, since a brand new compressor would be around $2500, but I am happy to be back to work for three days. Then this morning, it breaks down again. Lots of loud noises, and the compressor has shaken so much that it has "walked" a few inches across the floor.

Eventually, this thing will be fixed. The repair company is apologetic, is not going to charge me for labor or mileage any more. I have no idea at this point if they are incompetent or if I am just unlucky. But I am frustrated. I have a backlog commissions to be working on, and I am at a stand-still. I have run out of projects that can be done without the compressed air. I have done my the work of preparing for tax season, at least a month earlier than I usually do. And look – I am adding something to my blog! So all that is good. And I am stuck in neutral.

FRUSTRATION RULES TODAY. Hopefully I will soon be back to the work I love.

November 17, 2013

Remains of the Day

You may have heard me talk or write about how I make my shades from these big log sections, sometimes weighing as much as 250 pounds when I start, and ending up around a pound or less. Even the smallest shades begin as 70 pound chunks, and when I am done with all the carving, there is only few ounces. Have you ever wondered about what happens to the other 99% of the log? 

The rest of the log becomes:
  • slabs from using a chainsaw to cut off the corners of the log
  • shavings, shavings, shavings
  • a cone-shaped piece that comes out of the center of the log
  • a round piece, flat on top and bottom, that comes from the other end
The picture at the right shows the slabs. I cut off these parts before bringing the log chunk in to the shop for two reasons. One is that it makes the piece lighter, easier to manage and lift. But the more important reason is that I get an early look inside the log. Sometimes I discover a hidden defect that means I will not use that piece of wood. Other times, I see the hint of a grain pattern that can be featured by choosing a particular shape for the shade. The slabs end up in my organic, long-term composting pile behind my garage.

Most of the log ends up in shavings, produced by carving away the wood on the lathe, little bit at a time. I am using hand-held gouges, and there are no shortcuts. If the log started out at 200 pounds, there are probably 175 pounds of shavings, and when they are cut away from the log, they get bigger! The pile of you see in the second picture is from making four medium sized lampshades. I haul these out of the shop in a big Garden Way cart. Some of them go in to a compost pile used in our gardens, and the rest go out in to that giant pile behind the garage, filling in between the slabs mentioned above. People ask me all the time about alternative uses for these shavings, like animal bedding or burning for heat. The problem is that the shavings are straight from the log, and very wet - not at all suitable for the proposed alternatives. The fact that they get turned in to compost, returned in to the ground from which the tree grew, is a use that seems very appropriate and environmentally sound.

There are two solid chunks of wood that come from the turning process. On the medium and larger sized shades, I remove a cone shaped piece from the center of the wide end of the shade. Most people would assume that this is a time saver, but the real purpose for leaving the column of wood inside the log for the first phase is that it helps ergonomically. The cone/column provides a point where I can touch the "tailstock" of the lathe to the heavy, spinning log. That greatly reduces vibration in the wood and my body as I rough away the waste wood. 

The other end of the log is attached to the lathe with a faceplate, which is a thick flat disk of steel through which long screws embed in to the wood. When the shade is completely made, the only part left on the lathe is that round chunk. I stack these parts up to make interesting towers that I call "totem poles." Some of these are taken away by my clients, others are in our gardens, and some have ended up at the local elementary school, utilized by the art classes to make fun sculptures, decorated with colored markers.

In the end, what matters most is that the big chunk of log is made in to the remarkable lampshade. There is a lot of leftover material. But it would be a mistake to focus on this as wasteful and environmentally suspect. Remember, these shades are made out of Aspen wood, a kind of wood that is considered a junk species from a forestry point of view. It is never made in to lumber, it is not desirable for firewood. One of the many things I love about my work is that I am taking such an unloved species and making well-crafted pieces of artwork that serve a function, and are deservedy loved by their owners. 

November 16, 2013

Turning Sixty

Almost a year ago, on December 28, I turned sixty years old. And in the months since then, it has gradually and inexorably become clear to me that this is a big deal in my life. In particular, I am aware of how age is related to my career and passion as a woodturner, and as a maker of translucent wood lampshades. The work I do is physically intense, and it requires a fairly high degree of coordinated capabilities  of sight, touch, hearing, memory, and concentration. I feel terrific and confident about those abilities right now, and I have no reason to believe that any of the crucial components of my craft are about to abandon me. I plan to be making my lampshades in to the future, for as many years as possible, and I hope that is a long, long time.

But this year, I have faced the unavoidable reality that "a long, long time" is not forever. Someday, it will not be possible for me to do this. Without speculating too much about which capability will be the one that diminishes and makes it impossible, it is pretty clear that I won't be doing this work when I am 80. Even age 70 seems like a stretch, to believe that I can keep it all together and be standing at my lathe for hours, carving away mountains of shavings from massive logs and getting the precise results I get now.

Now, every time I feel a "ping" in a muscle or joint, I wonder if the moment has come.  at least on occasion, I feel very mortal and fragile. For example, a couple of nights ago, I woke up with a discomfort in my left hand that grew to something that kept me from sleeping. It kept me from working the next day. And that thought arrived once again: "did I create my last lampshade yesterday?" This is an awareness I am coming to terms with, and it doesn't make me crazy or depressed. Not at all! I love what I do, and it is a huge part of how I identify myself. But I ALSO know that I have an amazing life outside of woodturning, and I have zero doubt that whenever the page turns to the next chapter, I will be fulfilled, challenged, and happy.

And the funny thing is that this year of turning sixty has been the most fruitful of my career. Even more than before, truly amazing commissions and clients started to materialize. And most inexplicably, this all started almost exactly on the date of my birthday last December. I hope to be writing more blog posts soon about some of these projects, but for the purposes of this post, the most succinct thing to say about is that in my 30+ years of being a full-time craftsperson, I typically have had in front of me one to three significant commission projects at any particular time. And at this moment, I have nine projects lined up to create before next summer! Some sort of tipping point has been reached. It is incredibly exciting for me, a dramatic new phase in my work and my creativity.

So, all the more reason to stay healthy and focused. The opportunities are there, and I will find a way to outsmart Father Time and "keep on keeping on" for as long as I can. This is my life's work, and it is not done. Hooray. Being 60 and being a woodturner for 30 years are BOTH things I am proud of, and always always always, appreciative for all the people and good fortune that makes it possible!

((OH..., and by the way, my apologies for neglecting this blog for so long. I feel inspired to get back to posting here more often, with news about commissions, inspirations, collaborations, and whatever else comes to the fore.))

July 30, 2012

"Orbs" collaboration with Paula Barry

Each year, a focal point of my creative intentions is directed towards the Living With Crafts exhibition at the League of NH Craftsmen's Annual Fair (aka "Sunapee"). The event runs from August 4-12, with a preview party on Friday evening, August 3. This year, I have two pieces that were accepted for the display, and both of them are collaborations. And all collaborations have a story! In this blog entry, I will tell you about the piece done in conjunction with the ceramic artist Paula Barry.
The story began last summer, when my wife Kathy saw the Sculpture Garden at the Sunapee craft fair, and came back to my booth, recommending I go see some ceramic garden sculptures. I did, and instantly started to see the forms as a starting point for a lamp base for my wood shades. By coincidence, it turned out that they were made by Paula Barry, and that her booth at the fair was in the same tent as mine. Paula and I chatted during the rest of the show, and made a tentative plan to submit a collaborative piece for Living With Crafts in 2012.
Our first idea was to make a floor lamp. using a stack of Paula's elliptical hollow forms, which I started to call "orbs." The idea was to alternate ceramic and wood orbs in a tall column. Later on, I realized that the weight of the entire piece, and the forces that could torque on the ceramic forms, could make the piece a bit fragile. So we switched to the concept of making table lamps. I sketched some ideas which I submitted to the Living With Crafts selection jury, and which were accepted. 
Once we got the go-ahead, Paula responded quickly by making about 30 orbs, all different colors and with a variety of carved patterns. She brought them to New London, and we had a fun time playing, stacking them up in to various sets, trying to find the best combinations of colors and graduated sizes. We ended up with four sets we liked, and over the next couple of months, I made up the lamp bases from the sets. Each lamp base has a larger solid wood orb-like shape at the foot, five of the ceramic orbs in a stack, topped by a smaller wood "neck," which serves the purpose of allowing the shade to set a bit higher, thus allowing the viewer to see all of the ceramic parts. Once the bases were all made, I started matching them up with shades that I had already made. Since the table lamp bases are relatively tall (about 19") and have substantial visual mass, they seem to look best with fairly large shades, typically about 17-18" in diameter. Once the four lamps were completely set up, I took high quality formal pictures which you can see at the bottom of this blog entry.
These collaborative lamps are part of a longer-term exploration that has to do with stacked round shapes. My blog entry for July, 2010 is about my Bryce Canyon floor lamp base (, and if you read that you will see references to the amazing hoodoos at Bryce, as well as the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, and the drip forms that are sometimes part of sand castles. Since then, I have also connected the basic idea to rock cairns that are used to mark hiking trails in the mountains, and some of the environmental sculptures made by Andy Goldsworthy. Nothing I am creating in wood, or using the ceramic orbs, is exactly modeled on any of the visuals. See this link to a photo gallery to see a collection of images that relate to the stacked form concept!i=1995750104&k=n2sfW5X.

November 13, 2011

SunDrops: another new collaboration with David Little

David Little is a fantastic blacksmith in Meredith, NH. You can see older posting on my blog about other pieces we have done together. He and I began collaborating in 2004, and almost every year since then, we have come up with new projects to create together. Some are commissions for clients, and some are for exhibitions. This summer we premiered an entirely new design concept for the Living With Crafts exhibit at the League of NH Craftsmen's Annual Fair at Sunapee, NH.

It began as a drawing I made five or six years ago, but we never actually built it. I have always liked the concept, but since it is more three dimensional than our other pieces, the sketch could not do justice to the essential forms, so we never got a client interested in commissioning this piece. This year, we took the leap of faith to build it for the LWC exhibit, and it could not have been a bigger success. David and I love the way it came out, and it opens up a whole new branch to our growing portfolio of designs. It also won two prestigious awards at Living With Crafts: Best Collaboration, and Best in Contemporary Design. There were so many amazing pieces in the exhibition, so we are honored to be selected by the jurors.

An interesting bit about how the design evolved: the original drawing was quite a bit taller and proportionally narrower, and that form is equally dramatic. But it would only be appropriate for a room with a very high ceiling. In coming up with the final drawings for LWC, it was obvious that it needed to be re-scaled to suit the exhibition hall. In doing that, we realized it could easily be scaled in many ways: wider or narrower, taller or shorter, and with shades as small as 10" diameter or as large as 18." All the variations we played with looked good! What we settled on is a fairly small rendition, which was appropriate for the space and also the Terry Moore Table over which it was going to be placed.

When we had it all built, we realized it needed a name. Originally we had been referring to it as "Tri-Icicles,"
which made more sense when it was a much taller form. But in this shorter configuration, it looked less like icicles. And when the shades were suspended from the steel and lit up, the coloration and glow was so much warmer feeling than anything having to do with ice and winter. Although it is not literally mimicking any natural floral form, it seemed reminiscent of something growing and organic. Suddenly the word "SunDrops" came to
mind, and that title resonated instantly. Now we couldn't imagine it being called anything else!

One other note about this piece. Working on two dimensional paper to draw three dimensional forms is limiting. The interplay of lines sweeping through space is entirely different depending on what angle the piece is seen from. And even if I can imagine what the lines on the paper mean when it is translated to three dimensions, it is far from an ideal way to present to a prospective client – the dynamic range of dancing shapes is confusing and ambiguous. So I am now learning how to make 3D models out of copper wire and tubing, annealing the metal so it bends sinuously, and soldering the joints. I still have to work out some tricks for how to hold the odd shaped pieces together while I solder, but the process of bending and arranging the components is fascinating. Just a simple thing like taking three arc-shaped elements and holding them together in different ways provides for infinite choices. The aesthetic and functional results are fascinating. I have no doubt that this new way of designing is going to open up a lot of new project opportunities.

March 12, 2011

The League's New Home

The League of NH Craftsmen is the oldest state craft organization in the country, runs the oldest craft show, and is truely an amazing operation that supports the making and makers of fine craft in ways that are very dear to my heart. I have been a juried member of the League for almost 30 years, and have served in various volunteer roles for almost all of that time. The most recent involvement for me has been on the Building Committee which has helped to overseen the League's huge endeavor of building a new home. In July, we will move in to the new digs, which are on Main Street in Concord, across from the Capital Center for the Arts. We will own half of the first floor of a new building built by Steve Dupree. The public spaces will include two gorgeous gallery spaces, an area in the lobby for demonstrations, a large multifunction room (can be divided in to two smaller spaces), a classroom, a studio workshop room, and a library. Also efficient offices and storage, modernized technological, and best of all, lots of handcrafted objects to make this new building glow with the feeling of what the League really represents: the meaning and beauty of hand made objects. I am on a subcommittee that has imagined how handcraft can be incorporated, solicited our juried membership for submissions, and made the choices on what to use.

My involvement does not stop with committee
work. I am part of a 5-person team that is creating the reception desk in the lobby. It is so much more than a desk, more like a giant organic sculpture that also serves as a functional workspace. The lower part will be based on a frame of cherry and walnut made by Seth Keidaisch, filled in with enameled copper panels made by Steve Hayden. David Little and Steve will embellish those panels with black iron branch-like lines. Suspended above the granite counter will be 9 cherry panels carved by Jeff Cooper with images depicting craftspeople's hands at work. Those panels are suspended on freeform black iron structural elements. And dropping down from the ceiling will be snakey black steel tubes that will hold up five of my minipendants. The drawing at the right gives some impression of what the piece will look like, but believe me, it will be so much more spectacular. There are many details and rich colors that were impossible to capture in a sketch. When it is done, I will try to get a new blog post up that gives a visual tour.

Banksia Light Galore

Last summer, I posted a blog entry about my first Banksia seed pod lamps. At the time, it was a new concept for me, and quite interesting. I never would have guessed how much other people would respond to these beautiful and bizarre natural objects. During the summer I quickly sold all the lamps I made with the Banksia bases, and ordered more pods. So now I am well set for Banksia bases thru the summer. I also ordered a third batch of the "whopper" pods.

When this third box arrived, it was obvious that I had scraped the "bottom of the barrel" of what was available, since these were smaller. Still much bigger than the usual 6-7" pods that I have seen for years, this last batch was more like 9-10" long. Too small for making lamp bases, but perfect for a new product: candlesticks. I made the first pair as a special order, and now have some more made up for the upcoming Marlboro craft show. Again a very dramatic and functional form that takes advantage of the unique appearance of the pods. Along with the table lamps and the candlesticks, I also make tea lights and oil candle lights out of the pods, and it makes quite a collection of illuminating creations.
What I learned is that Banksia pods are mainly harvested in March and April each year. And the "whopper" pods that I am interested in are quite rare, perhaps about 100 are harvested each year. I seem to have an inside line on purchasing these, and at this point, and am buying more than I am using, so that I can make sure that I stay ahead. Fascinating how an annually renewable resource can also be so extraordinarily rare.