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Cutsom Styled Lamps
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

A lamp, more than any other lighting fixture, stages its own architecture and stars in its own show. Put yourself into the act by creating a lamp from a favorite hobby or work of art.

Old sewing machines, birdhouses/bird cages, boots, wheels, cameras, and samovars begin a long list of custom lamps created by Carol and Doyle Fletcher, who specialize in lamp making at Fashion Lamps. Martha Brooks, in 25 years ownership of Fashion Lamps on Lovers Lane, has also witnessed a wide array of objects go under the shade: the two most popular categories are vases and figurines, especially goddesses, animals, and statuary. Other popular choices include old stoves, musical instruments, guns, and cowboy boots--full sized boots--but mostly little ones.

Shell collections make particularly lovely lamps when the shells are artfully arranged inside a plain glass jar such as a ginger jar, according to Brooks. A man once requested a lamp made out of a half-gallon mustard jar filled with marbles. Unfortunately, while drilling a hole in the glass for the conduit, the jar shattered.

"We always have to tell the customers that we drill at their risks," says Brooks. Although rare, accidents do happen, and no one wants to lose an irreplaceable vase. But other options are available, such as attaching the vase or object to the lamp base with glue, a toggle bolt, or a custom fitted recessed base. These procedures necessitate placing the utility rod behind the object, extending the rod vertically, and bending it over the object to orient the socket in line with the axis.

Many people still choose a central rod because it produces the sturdiest lamp, according to Brook. Porcelain's hard composition can withstand the stress of drilling. Fine crystal vases, however, are not drilled. Because of the malleability of leaded crystal due to the additive, lead oxide (a discovery made by Englishman George Ravencroft in 1675), many styles of fine crystal lamps already exist on the marketplace.

Rarely seen, however, are lamps made with a hockey puck, a duck pin, a brass trumpet, or wallpaper printer's rollers. A lamp made from a violin not only spotlights the violin, the base also serves as a stand, from which the violin can be removed and played. Another unusual, albeit, functional lamp holds a working electric fan with a rotating blade.

Proportion remains the dictating force in designing a lamp, according to Brooks, who suggests a simple shade with a magnificent vase. To concentrate more light on the base, Brooks recommends a black opaque shade with a narrow top and wide-rimmed bottom. On the other hand, elaborate shades, translucent fabrics, and stained glass Tiffany lamps draw the attention away from the base.

Fitting a shade to a lamp is like trying on a dress, only more mind boggling, were it not for the expert advice of shade fitter, Eleanor Triece, who uses a light bulb at the end of a cord to demonstrate the illumination properties of each shade. Opacity varies tremendously depending on the weave, braiding, and fabric, which range from paper and wood to parchment, linen, and fine silk. Mica, a semi-translucent stiff crepe, transmits a golden hue. When combined with a black opaque background, the mica lights up a gold pattern. Patterned shades are not as abundant as the plain fabrics although I saw a lovely pattern of small gold Napoleonic bees embroidered on a black background. More often, the patterns come from illumination, especially from trims on translucent fabrics. Shades costs about $25.00 for small ones; large handsome varieties can run around $70.00.

From circular to multi-sided and cut corner square, shades come in an overwhelming number of graceful shapes. Graceful too are the hardware--at least the names, like "harp," a curved metal fixture that arches over the light bulb and down into the socket. The top of the harp attaches to the metal frame of the shade and is held in place by a "finial." More than a screw, the finial is like a decorative cherry on top of an ice cream sundae or a jeweled pin on a dress. In fact, among the vast world of finials are a large assortment of ornamental animals, cartoon characters, figurines, and decorative jewels.

Instead of replacing an older lamp, Triece suggests refreshing it with a new shade and finial. Rewire or replace a socket if the lamp has electrical problems. Indeed, using too high a wattage for the capacity of the socket may cause a lamp to burn out. You can avoid such a problem by selecting a porcelain socket made especially for high intensity bulbs. Even if a lamp should happen to fall the fate of Humpty Dumpty, the Fletchers can often repair the pieces back together.

A custom lamp takes about two to three weeks. Costs for drilling (glass is sent out) and assembling the lamp run around $100. Materials run extra and vary according to type of base (metal or wood) and the rod, which can be oxidized or stained for color coordination. Note that wiring can also be color coordinated.

Besides shade lamps, the Fletchers have electrified statuary of all sizes and created unusual chandeliers, for example, a set of antlers wired with tiny lights and shades to go on the bedroom wall in a log cabin.

Fish, especially the wooden and sculptured variety, make particularly decorative lamps. According to Doyle, a "catch-of-the-day," once made the base of a lamp. Whenever the light goes on, this fish now inspires the retelling of a good fish story.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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