Oct 19, 2023

The Rise of Woven Lamps 2023

9 items in this article

9 items in this article

It's hard to imagine another collection of lighting ever surpassing the popularity of Isamu Noguchi's Akari light sculptures, but as iconic as they are, there has been a rise in lamps made of natural materials, undoubtedly inspired, in part, by the artist's use of washi paper and bamboo in his lanterns.

As curator Su Wu points out, "A prevailing style at the moment draws so deeply on Noguchi's ideas of volume and glow with the same veiling of the bulb and creation of armature and diffused light." She sees the influence of Akaris in the work of Marrow and its bone-shaped lamps made from hand-stretched fabric over shaped steel and in the work of Bennet Schlesinger, whose lamps feature rough-hewn ceramic bases and paper-and-bamboo shades.

Another lamp that Wu sees getting a lot of play these days is German industrial designer Ingo Maurer's Lampampe, an oversize, almost comically proportioned table lamp with a conical shade and a wide, crinkled column base — all made of Japanese paper. In fact, I’ve been seeing it everywhere, too, and often paired with a Noguchi in the same space. I spotted it on Laila Gohar's Instagram, at Somerset House in Queens, in Tom Delavan's home when I went for his Beni Rugs collection preview, and in Sara Ruffin Costello's home in New Orleans.

While these lamps might trace a direct line to Akari, they’re perhaps a bit too abstract for the average home. After all, the beauty of Noguchi's light sculptures is that, according to Richard Wright, founder of Wright auction house, which recently held the first dedicated auction featuring over 50 lots of early and rare examples of the Akari, they occupy that rare space in which a "functional object rises to status of fine art" — not the other way around. Plus, says Wright, "they’re very easy to live with and easy to place."

One type of light I’m seeing more of these days: lamps made from basketry and wicker — and I’m not talking about the stuff you find in coastal settings or a place like Palm Beach. Just as Noguchi's Akaris were his take on traditional Japanese chochin lamps, this emergent class of lighting reinterprets traditional craft into something new and modern.

"It's all about taking this ancient knowledge and techniques passed down through generations and saving it and making it relevant for today," says Deborah Needleman, the former editor-in-chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. "I think there is a high-end interest now that comes from that tradition," she says, pointing to the work of Provence-based Atelier Vime. An acolyte of the art of basketry herself, Needleman has been researching — and honing — the craft for several years, traveling to places such as Japan, Spain, Italy, and Mexico and learning from craftsperson Annemarie O’Sullivan of Studio Amos, a studio based in South East England.

[Editor's note: Atelier Vime lists prices in euros, so the price shown here is an approximate conversion to U.S. dollars.]

"People seem to appreciate craft and the materials of nature more lately," she continues. "And both washi paper and willow-work are ancient crafts made from trees and plants — elements of the local landscape, rooting these objects in a place as well as in a history. I think this connection to place and to nature is something people are craving. I know I craved this."

Needleman, who makes baskets and sells some of her pieces at places such as Reed Smythe in Nashville, the Apartment in Denmark, and Cabana Magazine, has recently been working with lighting, too.

"I’m super-excited to do more lighting and to develop new designs. The quality of the diffused light, whether through the Akari paper or the gaps in the willow, creates a special, moody atmosphere that is quite different from the bare-bulb designs we’ve seen so much. And it builds on these old traditions, which I love — and which forms a connection in us to the past, however subtly."

I also see weaving in the work of Twenty One Tonnes, a Vancouver- and Los Angeles–based brand that works with artisans in Ghana and Mexico to create handwoven lamps and pendants from materials such as elephant grass and palm leaves. Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens first spotted the brand's undulating, mushroomlike shades and gnome-shaped wares at the Primary Essentials in Brooklyn. On the Twenty One Tonnes's Instagram page, its lamps are styled with Noguchis, a coincidence that feels pointed.

Interior and furniture designer Pali Xisto Cornelsen, who owns several Akaris, has also begun to develop a line of pendants inspired by Japanese basketry. "I have looked at the Akari phenomena and have used the different shapes as guidance to develop a line of lights with the materiality of this basket lamp," he explains. Cornelsen first encountered a basket hung upside down over a ceiling light at the Pennsylvania compound of woodworker George Nakashima and was struck by the simplicity of it. Through a family friend of the Nakashimas who helped connect him with artisans in Japan, Cornelsen was able to re-create a version of the lamp he saw there, and it is now hanging in the kitchen of Cornelsen's Brooklyn home. He is currently working on a collection inspired by the bamboo basketry of the lamp he first saw at the Nakashima Foundation and hopes to create a few different geometric shapes.

Perhaps, inevitably, you can see some of this high-end wickerwork already trickling down to places like Crate & Barrel, whose collaboration with Athena Calderone produced a couple of designs that look quite similar to the work of Atelier Vime. (According to the product copy, the L’Union floor lamp was inspired by a 1950s lamp base that Calderone had bought at the Les Puces flea market in Paris.) And my prediction is that we’ll only continue to see more of these handcrafted woven lights — including interpretations by bigger retailers. Needleman agrees: "The trend for the past decade or more has been for sculptural metal lighting, but people seem to appreciate craft and the materials of nature more lately."

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