The World's best hand-thrown ceramic lamps
In 2016, Christopher Spitzmiller received an alumni citation for career achievement from his alma mater, St. Lawrence University. He has had the honour of making lamps for the Obama Oval Office, the current and past three White House Administrations, as well as Blair House and countless other distinguished American homes.
Making the lamps requires time, patience and skill. So how do these classic designs and bold, rich glazes come together to create the lamp every design-lover lusts after?
1. Christopher begins the process by hand-throwing the models they use to make the lamps - usually a set of six to eight. He picks the very best one, and then makes a plaster mold to standardise the process.
2. The lamps are first slip-cast by an artisan using a plaster mold and allowed to set for a day before the mold is removed.
3. After the shapes are bisque-fired, each lamp gets several coats of glaze to produce a rich colour.
4. The lamp is then glaze-fired at a lower temperature in the kiln.
5. Once approved, a craftsman gets to carving a beautiful wood base. Lamp bases are water gilded by hand using 23k yellow gold or 9k white gold leaf.
6. The Lamp then arrives at its final phase, getting wired for use.
It usually takes six to eight weeks to create a lamp, from boxes of clay and slip!
“Richard Keith Langham, a decorator for Jackie Onassis and Pat Buckley, first commissioned a pair of lamps in the summer of 1996. Then, I supplied just the ceramic vases, and Keith had them wired. My motto in business has always been ‘Make it easy for the client,’ so I set out to learn how to hand-turn the wood bases, water-gilt the bases, and find the best electrical fittings. A niche was filled, and my business was born!”
Where do you find inspiration for the gorgeous shapes of your lamps?
“Asian and other historical shapes that have been around for centuries mainly inspire my lamps. What I strive for most in my designs and products is timelessness. [Designer] Miles Redd says, ‘Buy the best and only cry once.’ We share that point of view!”
How has history played into your lamp designs? And what do you love most about ceramics?
“Yes, I comb museums, auction houses, and any other historical references for my lamp design ideas. Taking old time-tested shapes and making them mine in a new way is what I love doing and yields the best results. What I love about ceramics is the whole process, taking some compressed wet dust and minerals, literally mud, and making something wonderful and, above all, useful!”
When it comes to colour, do you have a favourite combination or a favourite colour? Any hues you’re particularly loving right now?
“Our Prussian blue, which President Obama has in the Oval Office, is always a winner. Platinum and clear are my other two favourites. I’m trying to bring some bling to whatever room you put my lamps in. We do this with our gemlike glazes and our excellent craftsmanship.”