"Made in the USA."
We see less and less of this claim with each passing month. Large home grown companies leaving our shores. International trade deals being signed and enforced that create greater and greater barriers to our domestic manufacturers. Ill conceived laws being spewed out by the dumpster load by our illustrious politicians on both sides of the aisles, making it harder to produce goods and hire staff here in America. That's not to say that it's impossible and I have a story to tell.
OK, so I'm no multinational block buster producer of goods. I'm in fact, a one man band and as many of you know I've overseen the production of the Harbour Lights Collection in Canada, Malaysia and China. I've spent thousands of hours searching the globe for people who have the skill and ability to produce the pieces I've designed. I am particularly proud of the workshop in China whose craftspeople produce my new collection of lighthouses. They are, in my opinion, some of the most gifted and diligent craftspeople in the world.
Let me back up a bit and tell the story from the beginning. As well as being quite besotted with lighthouses I also have a fascination with lighthouse Fresnel Lenses. They are an alluring combination of being large, practical, functionally elegant pieces of engineering while at the same time being mesmerizingly beautiful pieces of art.
Some years ago, not long after sculpting Jones Point, I decided to turn my hand to making a lighthouse lens of my own. I've designed and overseen the development of all the previous Harbour Lights lenses but, had never actually made one myself. It is a very different skill set from sculpting a lighthouse. It was more of a model making process than a sculpture and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The lens I chose was the Toledo Harbor Lens which is now on display at the Maumee Bay State Park Lodge in Ohio. Toledo Harbor's 3 1/2 order lens is quite unique. Manufactured in Paris by Barbier & Benard, it has a bi-valve lens on one side and a combination of two bull's eye panels and a prismatic reflector on the other side.
Once the model was completed and moulds make of the many separated pieces that made up the finished sculpture I started to look for someone to make this piece for me, with absolutely no success. The previous manufacturer of the Harbor Lights lenses took one look at the piece and said that they couldn't charge me enough for all the difficulty they would have to go through to produce this piece. I got similar responses from everyone I approached. Several manufactures suggested that if I simplified the model I might find someone to make it, but in its current configuration I was just plain out of luck. Needless to say, I didn't want to dumb down the model I'd invested so much time and effort getting it just the way I wanted.
Around this time I started to ask myself. "Why not make this piece yourself. Despite what the factories have said, how hard could it be to make?"
The idea grew and the conviction developed that I should take on this project myself and produce this lens here in the USA. Then I decided to add another wrinkle to this increasingly complicated project. It is not good enough to just make the piece in the US, but the piece should be made as much as possible of American sourced and manufactured materials.
What started as a simple quest became an eye opening odyssey. With a lot of help I finally found American manufactures of silicon rubber and casting resin. Paint was quite a stumbling block but finally I found just the right formula, again made in America. And so I worked my way down the list part by part from paint brushes to varnish, cardboard boxes to insulated wire. I have to admit that I've been stumped on a couple of parts, such as battery packs and LED lights, all of which are available as American made but unfortunately I'd have had to remortgage the house and sell one of my sons to the salt mine in order to pay for the minimum order! Taking this approach is by no means the cheapest way to get something made but has turned out to be immensely satisfying.
During this fascinating escapade I've talked to and met with a lot of small business owners who have openly given me their time and advice and I've relearned something I'd forgotten, and that is that America's small business are the largest employer in the country, the highest payers of tax, the core of American innovation, and the backbone of what makes it possible for America to be great.
Therefore the piece is 100% American made, of 97% American made materials, by an Englishman!
"How hard could it be to make?" What a silly question. The answer is that it's bloody hard and takes a very long time. Not including the many hours of mould making and hand casting and fettling of each component, there are about 12 hours of hand painting and assembly.
The lens is made up of eleven separate castings. Each casting naturally shrinks and expands when it cures based on the outside temperature and the size of the piece. Getting them to fit together as a single flawless piece has made my head spin at times!
Take clear resin casting for example. On the face of it, it sounds simple. Take a mould, mix up some resin, pour it into the mould , let it set and voila, a lovely clear lens. Heck no, that's just not the case. Do that and it comes out cloudy and full of bubbles.
The real answer is to make sure that the humidity is not over 60% and the temperature is below 75F. Now very carefully and accurately mix the two parts of the resin together, now tint the resin with a pin prick of dye to get that lovely raw glass green hue. Next you have to pour the resin in to moulds that have been preheated for two hours at 350F. Then, before the resin starts to thicken you put the moulds into a steel canister, bolt the lid down and pump in high pressure air to shrink all the air bubbles. Now wait for 12 hours before the castings are hard enough to take out of the chamber, pop the moulds under a heat lamp for a further 3 hours to finish the curing of the resin, de-mould the parts and start the process all over again.
From casting to fettling, painting to assembling, challenges presented themselves that I just had not foreseen. But finally I think I've solved most of them and am ready to reveal to the world some photos of my efforts. It really has been a learning process and to be quite honest a lot of fun.
TOLEDO HARBOR LENS DETAILS
Edition size: 300 or less. I'll retire this piece in a few months even if the edition size is not sold through.
Dimensions: 8 3/4 inches tall
6 inches wide
5 inches deep
Lighting: The lens is lit with an LED light that is powered by 3 AAA batteries. (There is no socket for an electrical adapter)
If you are interested in purchasing the Toledo Harbor Lens, please contact me and I'll get to work making you one. Once it is ready to ship I'll send an e-mail invoice to you.
If I get to the point that I have to start a waiting list, the orders will be processed on a first come first served basis. If you would like the edition number to match your Jones Point or Rock Island, I can do that. However don't feel that you need to purchase this piece to secure the continuation of your edition number on future lighthouse pieces. The guarantee of the same edition number is based on the lighthouse sculptures only. This lens is outside of that plan.
You've made it to the bottom of the e-mail. Sorry for rambling on so long and thanks for bearing with me. I can't really begin to properly express my gratitude to all the collectors that have supported me on this new venture, but what I can say is THANK YOU.