October 20, 2015

"The Highlands" Chandelier: New Design Concept

Working in collaboration with my blacksmith, David Little, I have created a new design for a dining room chandelier. It is based on the Prairie-style fixtures that have been very popular with my clients, but it incorporates long sweeping arcs in the horizontal lines, which is reminiscent of the smooth curving lines of our hills and mountains. Since I am fascinated by the Scottish Highlands, I am (at least for the moment) calling this new design The Highlands.

The clients are long-time appreciators of my work, and their home is in Sunapee, NH, so I could make multiple site visits. We talked a lot about the other curved lines in their home (note the windows, table and chairs in this picture). The shades and the metalwork were custom designed to fit in with that look.

I love this new design. And I feel sure that it will lead to more commissions that are related to this piece. Thanks, Susan and Jim!

9 Chandeliers in Flying Goose Brew Pub

The Flying Goose Brew Pub is a beautiful restaurant in New London, overlooking Mount Kearsarge. I recently installed nine single-shade chandeliers in to the dining room. It completely changed the ambiance of the room, providing a warm glow that is relaxing, functional and dramatic. See for yourself by eating at the Goose (make sure you ask to be seated in the dining room, not the pub).


July 27, 2015

My New Logo, and How I Got There

Being a craftsperson means I do pretty much everything for my business. It is not only about making the work. There is lots to that goes in to selling, designing, packing and shipping, doing my taxes, maintaining my tools and machines, building my website, and making my work known to the world. That last piece is called "marketing," and it is a category of tasks that might not seem very romantic or interesting, but it absolutely is an important part of making a living doing what I do. And I actually enjoy the challenges of figuring it out.

My marketing involves my website, the craft fairs I show at (only one these days, "Sunapee"), and the postcards I send out to my mailing list twice a year. And an important part of all these things is having a consistent look and feel. That is my "brand" and it is most specifically embodied in my logo.  30 years ago I had a logo made for me that I have used for all these years, but it really didn't work anymore – it was designed before I even made lampshades! So my son Tom, who works in advertising, encouraged me to modernize my brand. That involved my wonderful new website woodsheds.com and also my new logo. Tom's good friend, Jeff Chandler, is an artist, and Jeff volunteered to work with us to come up with the design for the logo.

This took a few months, and many interactions of ideas. Jeff interviewed me, and it was very wide-ranging. We talked about motivation, intention, inspiration, technique, and materials. Then Jeff started sketching in a notebook.  I suspect that Jeff showed us over a hundred ideas. At first Tom and I got to see pages and pages of tiny sketches. As we responded to those and talked about things we liked and didn't like, Jeff started to produce increasingly refined illustrations, in series that depicted lots of minor tweaks and variations. Here are three examples of directions that we eventually abandoned:

The logo that you see at the top of this blog post is the one we eventually and happily settled on. Jeff provided me with the complex Photoshop file, so that I can continue to play with this, and come up with variations for particular purposes. For example, two version that are black and white:

I am impressed with Jeff and his tireless enthusiasm for this project. And the result works perfectly for me. It is distinctive, dramatic and professional. It speaks to the organic shapes that I use in my work, the colors of my lampshades, the origins of the wood in the Aspen leaf shape, and the romance of the light that is indicated by the candle flame shape.

July 19, 2015

Lulu Fichter Collaboration: SeaGlow Table Lamp

Collaboration with other artists has become a regular and inspiring part of my work for the past ten years. The projects I create with David Little of Winnipesauke Forge are a constant and growing design collection – we do several every year. And each year, I co-produce a lamp with an artist who's work I respect, and that seems complementary to my design aesthetic. Recently I have created table lamps with Lauren Pollaro (collage artist), Sharon Dugan (basketmaker), Paula Barry (potter) and Donna Banfield (woodturner and carver).

Improvised Combo of Lamp and Ceramic
I have just completed work on a piece incorporating the work of Lulu Fichter, a ceramic sculptor from Peterborough, NH. You can see her website by clicking HERE. Lulu has exhibited at the League of NH Craftsmen Annual Fair  (aka "Sunapee") for many years, and I have always enjoyed visiting her booth, and appreciating her organic, unique and dramatic sculptural forms. Last August, we began a conversation about how we might join her work with mine. We tried some very initial experiments, and started to see some wonderful possibilities.

We decided to move ahead with an application for the Living With Crafts exhibition at Sunapee 2015. Our proposal was accepted, and we began to figure out how to actually make this lamp.

This Spring, Lulu created a series of forms, and provided me with the three largest ones. Instantly I saw that the one big challenge would be to figure out how to secure the ceramic form to the wood base. Lulu's work is not round, which is what makes is so evocative. But without a round foot on her piece, I had to design an internal orientation/alignment piece that keeps the foot of the clay sculpture exactly where I want it to be.

The finished lamp is absolutely marvelous! The way the warm light shed down over Lulu's open form is fascinating – it really emphasizes the sensuous curves as well as the details around the perforations. The Mahogany column running up the center of the form peaks thru the holes. Soft shadows drape over the ivory-white ceramic material.

The lamp is 29" tall and the shade is 17" diameter.

Because Lulu's sculptures remind me of the corals and sponges in the ocean, we chose the title:
Table Lamp

The finished lamp will be on exhibition from August 1-9 at the League Craft Fair, in the Living With Craft exhibit. Hopefully you will have the chance to see this unique piece.

CLICK HERE for the link to the League's website for info about the big event

July 15, 2015

My Brand New Website

My son Tom works in advertising in NY City, and a few months ago, he let me know that he thought my website was old fashioned, hard to navigate, and it didn't do a good job of representing the quality of my work or my professionalism. It didn't take long for him to convince me that he was right, but I was intimidated by the size of the task required to build a new site. Tom then pointed me to SquareSpace, which I had heard of very often because they sponsor many of the public radio shows and podcasts that I listen to. SquareSpace allows people to build a very attractive and sophisticated website through a web browser, rather than with dedicated software packages that can be very hard to learn. SquareSpace provides some super templates to start with, and they are extremely customizable. And they have terrific customer service, 24/7. I am very impressed with this operation.

The thing that really got me going on this project is that Tom also offered to help me build the site, and he got the ball rolling by creating a first draft on SquareSpace. I immediately liked where he was heading with this, and got excited enough to start participating more actively. It became a very fun and creative collaboration, and SquareSpace makes it easy for both of us to keep making changes from our geographically different locations. Ideas bounced back and forth and improvements were constant.

A month ago, the site was ready enough for "prime time" and I took down my old site and replaced it with the new one. Since then, Tom and I have continued to tweak the functionality and aesthetics of the pages, and with SquareSpace, it really is easy to keep that work going. The improvements at this point will be more incremental. But it is very clear to me that the new site is working very well in all ways. With SquareSpace, I get a lot of information (aka "metrics") about how many people go to my site, and what pages they view. In the four weeks since the site launched, I have had 530 visitors and they have viewed an average of three pages each. That means this has been worth the effort. And I feel sure that many of the visitors are having a good experience on the site. I would very much love to hear back from any and all about their visits to my website. It will get better and better if you help me understand what you want to see there.

I also have a brand new logo, which was made with the help of one of Tom's good friends, Jeff Chandler. That creative process was a remarkable collaboration, and it deserves a blog post all to itself. I hope to write that soon. The new logo shows below at the top of all my web pages.

Here is a snapshot of the new homepage of my site, and after that, what my old site looked like.

The Old Website

July 4, 2015

NH Chronicle Video Piece About My Work

In March, the local ABC affiliate, WMUR, came to my workshop and home to film a piece that was shown on NH Chronicle this Spring. It came out great, and I suspect you will enjoy watching it. It is 8 minutes long, and does a terrific job of capturing how I make the lampshades, and my passion for this work.

Check it out by clicking on this link:

Arc Fixture with Vines and Leaves

One of the very first collaborations I created with David Little was based on a simple horizontal arc shape, with shades suspended below. I think we have made perhaps 6 or 8 pieces based on this single idea. This Spring, we have been working on three new projects that are based on the Arc concept, but take it to new places. We built one that is over a kitchen island near Conway, NH that is called "The Tilted Arc." As the name implies, the Arc is twisted out of the vertical plane, which allows the three small shades that hang from it to follow the shape of the counter. I hope to have pictures of this soon.

We are about to install another Arc-based project that goes over a dining table in Boston. This room has an 11" high ceiling, and to fill that high space, this project had a longer lower arc, and above that is a shorter arc. Again, we should have pictures of this completed piece when it gets installed in late July.

The third project was put up a few weeks ago, and again it is based on the Arc design. But this time it has a unique-to-me ornamentation elements in the form of vines and leaves that wind around the Arc form. This complements other wrought iron pieces in the home that have botanical design elements.

The closeup below shows the elegant and natural way the vine wraps around the Arc shape. And interestingly, the leaves are Aspen leaves, the same wood as the shades are made from. It all goes together and makes sense.

Dave works in this general style very regularly (check out his website to see a lot more of his own work: http://www.irontable.com. This new piece opens up a lot more possibilities for Dave and I, where we integrate both of our design styles in to single projects.

One more interesting part of this Arc With Vines and Leaves project is that the wood for the two outer shades came from the client's own land. Last Autumn, I cut down a tree on their property, and made a total of four shades for them. Two are incorporated in to the project for their kitchen, and two are part of Shepherds Crooks that hang over their bed. I love projects like this, where there is a sense of alpha-to-omega, there is a history of the wood that begins at the tree.

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.