Issue Archives
Working dreams
As a kid, Steve Eichenberger chased hand-built balsa wood gliders, and when the builder gave him one, the simple act sparked a connection that eventually led to his gallery of lamps in Lake Oswego, Ore.

The structure of the lamps is disarmingly simple: A brass wire skeleton, jointed with smaller brass wires, is covered with a translucent skin of varnished paper and illuminated with a 25- or 40-watt bulb. But the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Initially Eichenberger sought the creation of an imaginary being, a final focus as his last image before death. He wanted a benevolent female face done in a suitable medium that suggested a working dream.

Capturing an inner imagined being was elusive. “I put a lot of care into the creation of the first ‘One,’” he says, “choosing the wire, discovering a method of suspending construction in midair, finding a non-toxic fabric that was strong and yet would conform to the curves…and yet work with both reflected and transmitted light. I still remember spending days tweaking the three-dimensionality to get the cheeks to flow right. The final product actually exceeded my expectations. She is the ‘One’ I’m going to keep all my life, for she is the mother of all subsequent sculptured lamps I have made and will make.”

Another imagined being is his “With Easy Abandon,” displaying what Eichenberger calls “an abundance of life energy flowing into space.” At 60 inches high and 34 inches wide, she needs a high-ceilinged home, so she can gaze down unruffled from above the daily fray.

Other smaller favorites are “Metropolis,” which Eichenberger calls “simultaneously retro and futuristic”—with inner legs sporting little curved socks to cover the bare wire, and “Nautilus,” his presentation of mathematical perfection—“the ultimate blend of function, form and beauty.”

Creating such lamps requires alternating between overall form and close detail: “I must try to visualize what the wire will look like when it is covered and blended with light. The final form emerges during covering, beginning with the application of a sheer fabric. At this stage I can begin to see the reflected light form, but it is ghostly—you can see clear through it.” When he finally installs the socket and bulb and flips the switch to add internal light, the artist knows success if “…there follows an instant, gratifying rush, a sudden rewarding realization of that previously abstract mental vision.”

Portland area visitors can check their own reaction at Eichenberger’s gallery at 16396 SW Kimball Ave., Lake Oswego, Oregon, or at