Among the many treasures scattered inside local consignment store Two Women and a Warehouse, a new line of hand-crafted steampunk lamps may be the ultimate find for retro-futurists.
The lamps, made of old gears, gauges, heavy bolts and Edison light bulbs, are the work of Bluffton-based artist Tom Davis.
Davis, a former public school teacher and girls basketball coach, began making them about five years ago after retiring from Ohio. He and his wife had always enjoyed going to auctions and estate sales and frequently bought and sold items at flea markets.
“In one of the first auctions, one of the lots I bought had some old plumbing supplies and I thought, ‘Well jeez, I can do something with those’ and ended up making pretty simple industrial-style table lamps,” he said.
He said he got the inspiration after visiting a store in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where his daughter was living, and seeing old tools being repurposed as appliances.
“The first thing I saw was a floor lamp made out of a drill bit used to drill an oil or water well, and it was an articulated piece that had a shut-off valve where you could raise or lower the light,” he said.
That piece cost $2,000, and Davis was sure he could make something more basic for considerably less money.
Some of the first lamps he made in that style sold on consignment in another antique store in D.C.
“Because of the lofts and style of housing up there, they were pretty popular,” he said.
The word “steampunk” refers to a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy that has influenced artistic styles and designs by tying together Victorian aesthetics with 19th century steam-powered machinery.
The steampunk aesthetic has gained popularity over the years, permeating pop culture from movies to television to specialty Lego sets.
Davis said he wasn’t necessarily out to create steampunk appliances but had accumulated the right components after years of thrifting. Each piece takes about five or six hours to make, typically, with most of that time dedicated to cleaning and painting the materials.
“I got to the point we had lights all over my house,” he said. “I fall in love with my work, and it’s hard to let go.”
He described the first couple of sales as “pretty stressful” but now enjoys seeing his work pop up in random places. Some dealers have purchased them for their own stores and marked the price up.
His lamps at Two Women and a Warehouse sell for roughly $85-$200, depending on the model, and come with the warning that they are extremely heavy — usually 30 pounds or more.
He’s made special trips to Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, to source the industrial-type raw materials he needs for his art. He’s also made table lights out of a 1940s vacuum cleaner, a footplate of a drum kit and an alternator from an ’85 Mustang.
“I feel I am an artist,” Davis said. “I believe in repurposing and recycling, and I like to tell people I make lights out of the junk they have in their garage.”
Davis said he doesn’t have plans to sell anywhere else right now but enjoys the compliments from customers for his unique wares.
“It’s not a full-time job for me. I do it for fun,” he said.
Get the lamps
Bluffton-based artist Tom Davis’ lamps can be found at Two Women and a Warehouse, 2819 Bull St. in Savannah. For information, call 912-351-5040.