In his New London studio, standing behind a lathe, Peter Bloch will work for hours as the wheel spins, turning wood into something artistic and unique — but also highly functional.
For more than 15 years, Bloch has been making lampshades out of wood.
As a woodworking hobbyist, Bloch used to create hollow vessels in his studio. At one point, he noticed that just a hint of light poured through them.
“It had just a little bit of glow,” Bloch said. “I was surprised by that. You wouldn’t think wood was translucent.”
Bloch uses aspen wood, an ordinary wood found throughout the country. Here in New Hampshire, the wood is the widest in diameter he has seen — lucky for him.
“The wood’s not generally used by woodworkers; it’s sort of like a junk species,” Bloch said. “But I’m taking it and making something really beautiful and unique with it.”
Bloch said he’s often asked whether the lampshade is safe.
“They won’t catch fire,” he said. “People have paper lampshades that are way more likely to catch fire. The hottest my lampshades will get is 110 degrees, which is really just hot water. It’s not even close to dangerous.”
Bloch said the lampshades are extremely durable and won’t crack. He also makes bases and engineers the lighting. He makes about 75 lampshades a year for his clients and showcases his creations at craft fairs and exhibits.
“It’s a different kind of purchase. It’s functional, but it’s art. It’s an heirloom, and it’s one of a kind,” Bloch said. “They’re completely handmade. … There’s a person behind it, and I think it’s important not to have that made-from-China feel. … They’re buying a story, not an object.”
Each lampshade comes from a local log of wood. Bloch will make up to five lampshades from one log. Each log he uses needs to be 6 to 12 months old. Bloch will often go with loggers to pick out the trees he uses and watch the process.
“I’m involved in that initial level and not just what comes in the door,” Bloch said.
When finished, Bloch will use a polymerized oil finish on the lampshade to help protect the wood. It also helps enhance the translucency.
“The colors in the wood [are] pretty magical,” Bloch said. “That has never gotten old.”
Right now, Bloch is starting to take on larger projects while he still can. He often teams up with other crafters to create multi-shade pieces, like chandeliers, for dining rooms and kitchens.
Bloch also creates little candle holders and tea lights as well as pepper grinders and pepper and salt shakers. The wood he uses for these pieces comes from around the world.
“I enjoy woodturning. It’s a very hands-on type of woodworking,” Bloch said. “It’s a form of carving really close to the wood. It’s very controlled by hand, and that’s a pleasurable way to work with wood. It’s very improvisational.”
As seen in the January 30, 2014 issue of the Hippo.