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ARTISANS: Spotlighting Makers of Handcrafted Goods : Delicate Hand-Painted Lamps Are Shining Example of Victoriana


The ancient Greeks hung burning pots of oil from the ceilings and torches from the walls to illuminate rooms. Later kerosene lamps were used to fill a room with brightness. With the advent of electricity, lamps took on new shapes and forms, and provided more efficient means of lighting. Yet there's still a charm to the old-fashioned looks that graced the homes of bygone eras.

It is the look of Victoriana that Marta Bacon of Fullerton tries to achieve when she is hand-painting her lamps and other china pieces.

"My canvas is china and glass," she said. "For me it's the best of both worlds. I get the translucent look of watercolors, yet the paint moves like oil."

Among Bacon's specialties are hand-painted lamps featured in a variety of Orange County shops and boutiques. For her business, Artistic Expressions by Marta, she purchases handblown glass globes that she adds to existing brass or metal lamps. Often she uses reproduction lamps with cherubs or flowers etched in the brass to complement the Victorian look she favors. On the opal-white glass, she paints renderings of flowers or other colorful scenes.

"Flowers are the most popular," she said. "And roses and pansies seem to be the favorites. While I will do a country-inspired lamp if asked, I prefer the Victorian look. In fact, many of the lamps also have Victorian accessories like dangling crystals that look like little prisms."

Bacon got started in china painting about 10 years ago when she was given a hand-painted plate as a wedding gift.

"I was very impressed and wanted to learn more about china painting," she said. "I was always drawing and painting as a child and this was so beautiful and different that I wanted to find out as much as I could."

This interest led to lessons and finally, an attempt to sell her work. While she started out painting plates, she soon discovered her skills could be applied to lamps as well. "Nobody was hand-painting lamps at that time," she said. "So I took one of the lamps I painted to a local shop that specialized in gifts and collectibles. The owner said he liked it, but there was just one problem: He needed 10 of them. I guess you could say that officially launched my career."

After Bacon paints her designs on the glass, it must be fired a minimum of three times to preserve the paint and keep it from being damaged.

Prices vary with the style of lamp. A small globe lamp (frequently referred to as a TV lamp or night light) sells for about $50. Table lamps cost about $150 and double globe lamps sell for about $250. Hanging lamps or large floor lamps that are about five feet tall (with a globe that spans 14 inches) can cost up to $700.

"I work with a lot of decorators who want lamps to complement wallpaper or curtains," she said. "Often they have certain color schemes or floral prints that I match."

While she paints, Bacon often uses the flowers as a guide. For instance, on globes with roses, the flowers are often pictured lying on their side, so Bacon selects some of the prettiest blossoms and sets them down on a table or shelf so she can see how the roses bend or look when they're lying flat.

Most of her work fits comfortably in Victorian designed rooms. In fact, china painting was a popular pastime for women of that era.

"The ladies then enjoyed china painting and needlework," Bacon said. "Today we are coming to really appreciate these skills. The Victorian look is becoming very popular, and you're seeing a revival of interest in some of the activities and entertainments that women of that time enjoyed."

In addition to the lamps, Bacon also paints other items as well: vanity boxes, plates, vases, switch plates and jewelry.

Although most of her lamps are electrically wired (a few are fueled by kerosene), Bacon believes people buy them for their beauty rather than their function. She said she believes the lamps remind people of a grandmother's home or other places that hold special memories.

In fact, in some instances, she has customers bring antique lamps to her so she can add a glass globe. "People still have the lamps but the globe may have been broken years ago," she said. "Double globe lamps are a challenge, because one of the globes may still be intact. The trick is to match as precisely as possible the colors and look of the existing globe. On other lamps, I'll paint and add the globe . . . or I can create a new globe if customers don't like the existing glass on their lamps."

Work on the lamps can take anywhere from one week to two months depending on the detail and Bacon's schedule.

"Even though I paint every day, it can take quite a while, because it's all done by hand. But I'm very lucky because I truly love this work, and it's something that's very special to a lot of people."

For further information on hand painted lamps, contact Artistic Expressions by Marta, at (714) 773-0865.

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