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!