Wood and paper lamp artist Peggy Mackenzie, right, helps Buckeye resident Ellie Gay form the branches of her lamp during the Pocahontas County Art Guild class last Friday. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Expanding on the creative classes it provides, the Pocahontas County Art Guild hosted a class last week where instead of painting or drawing, participating artists learned to craft paper and wood lamps with instructor Peggy Mackenzie.

After finishing a career in graphic design in California, Mackenzie returned home to Ronceverte where, by day, she is a writer for the Mountain Messenger and, in her spare time, an accomplished artist and lamp maker.

Mackenzie said she has always been interested in ambient lighting and how it can transform a room.

“Ambient lighting has been an interest of mine for a long, long time,” she said. “It’s a mild obsession that went hand-in-hand – and sometimes got out-of-hand – with rearranging furniture, often in other people’s homes – even hotel rooms – modifying the lighting in the room to suit my preferences.”

With her fixture fixation, Mackenzie was inspired by the paper lanterns of Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi. She decided to stop admiring other’s creations and get busy making her own.

“I eventually decided to learn how to make my own light fixtures from handmade paper and easily found, inexpensive, natural materials,” she said. “Now, twenty years and maybe two hundred lamps later, I hope this class will give [my students] satisfaction and enjoyment in creating [their] own ambient light lantern for [their] homes.”

In the class, Mackenzie taught students how to allow the wood – branches and twigs – to keep their shapes to make interesting, one-of-a-kind lamps. Once the students had the structure in place, they glued handmade paper panels to it to make a traditional, yet organic lamp.

The hardest part of the process, it seemed, was to get the branches to do what the artists wanted them to do. Mackenzie said sometimes it’s best to allow the branches to determine the shape of the lamp instead of forcing them to bend in a manner unnatural to them.

After receiving help from Mackenzie, Buckeye resident Ellie Gay said she was happy with her lamp.

“I was ready to just go home,” she said, after a second attempt to make her structure. “It was going everywhere.”

After taming her branches with rubber bands, creating an oblong lamp, Gay said it’s a process she will never forget.

“I’m going to dream of rubber bands,” she laughed.

Many of the students were local while some drove a distance for the class. Judy Lewis, of Lewisburg, Rose Dobbins, of Ronceverte, and Michael Lynn, of Lexington, Virginia, drove to Marlinton specifically for the class.

Lynn said she has taken several classes at the Art Guild and is always on the lookout for new classes there.

“I fell in with these folks down at Greenbrier Artists, and this is the third workshop I’ve come to up here,” Lynn said. “It’s worth the effort. It’s a lovely group of people and they have good artists coming in to teach.”