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An Article as it appeared in Skyline

Lamps Turn Mundane Into Natural Artworks

Browsing at the Hoosin Ltd. Studio in Lake View, several questions arise to perturb the aesthetically inclined: When does an ordinary household object become a piece of art?

When does a piece of nature become an ordinary household object?

How can a lampshade look like all three, but at the same time look like none of the above?

For patrons here, this light dilemma is usually purchased and brought home, where they're left gazing with exquisite indecision into a fixture made of translucent seashells.

"The shells are extraordinary," craftsman Richard Hoosin said amid dozens of glowing lamps, appearing more like an ocean reef than a furniture display. As one of few artists turning shells into lampshades, his modesty remains.

"I didn't create them, God did. I was just fortunate enough to see they have wonderful colors, natural textures, are three dimensional and have beautiful, natural designs."

He says other craftsmen have tried to make lampshades from shells but their results were crude and unsightly. The special techniques he developed on his own over the last 18 years, now company secrets, have turned his one-time hobby into a thriving business.

"This has been my best year so far, " he said. "Itís go, go, go. They've taken off like crazy."

Since moving his studio from North Town to 1121 W. Belmont Ave., two years ago, he can't believe his showroom is so successful. In the backroom workshop, he and seven craftsmen fill hundreds of orders from dealers around the country.

"When light comes through the shells, you have magic. A feeling of harmony and peace and beauty. It's not because of the design of the lamp but the design that's inherent in the shell," he said. "That's why people love the lamps so much."

Importing shells from Polynesia, Hawaii, the West Indies, Haiti, Indonesia and Mexico, Hoosin selects them for their translucence, color and durability. The edge of each one is wrapped in copper foil before being placed onto a mold along with pieces of glass and then soldered together.

Expanding on methods developed early in this century by Louis Tiffany, he says the lamps are very strong, and with three pounds of solder holding everything in place they will last more than 100 years.

Small pieces of cut glass placed between the shells distinguish Hoosin's floral and dragonfly patterns from his grape cluster designs. About 400 designs are made on site incorporating these themes. Many require several hundred pieces.

Hoosin's lamps have caught the attention of Better Homes & Gardens, Harper's magazine and the Art Institute of Chicago, which will be offering his four panel, mission-style lamps in its museum store.

The mission-style recalls the windows of architect Frank Loyd Wright, of whom Hoosin is a big fan. The original shell lamps, he says, will be in future Art Institute catalogs.

Both the shell and mission styles have an antique look largely due to their bases, which are hand finished to give a bronze patina. Prices start at $75 and run as high as $1,500 for the floor models. The average price tag is $250.

A former pre-med student at the University of Wisconsin, Hoosin became disenchanted with academic life and ventured to California in the early 70's. A friend told him of a shell lamp she had seen in a shop. After seeing it and noticing how hideous it was, he decided he could do it better.

"Then a magical thing happened. I was getting an incredible amount of attention and recognition," he said. "When I took the lamp somewhere to show someone, all types of people would stop me and tell me how beautiful it was when it wasnít even turned on.

"I knew I was on to something."