Using industrial shears, Peter Greenlaw cuts pieces from a sheet of copper that will be shaped into a six-sided, European-style lantern like those that illuminated New England homes during the Revolutionary War.
"It has a loop on top large enough to fit a hand because it was carried from room to room," says Greenlaw, 49. "It was common to hang the lantern on a bracket beside a door when it wasn't being used."
One of seven artisans at Scofield Historic Lighting in Ivoryton, Conn. (pop. 3,005), Greenlaw uses original materials and time-honored techniques to handcraft historically accurate reproductions of American and European light fixtures from the 17th to the 19th centuries and, in the process, is shedding new light on a manufacturing tradition.
"We use the same typical hand-operated equipment and methods that have been used for hundreds of years to build these pieces," says Greenlaw, who also cuts and shapes tin and steel into light-giving sconces, pendants and chandeliers.
The company was founded in 1974 in Stamford, Conn., by master craftsman Richard Scofield, who devoted years studying lighting fixtures in museum collections at Old Sturbridge Village and Historic Deerfield, both living history villages in Massachusetts, as well as in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Respectful of Scofields craftsmanship and scholarly study, some curators let him borrow original fixtures to replicate in his workshop. "Often, they could not discern the original from the copy," says Tom Perry, 59, an antiques store owner and one of Scofield's customers.
Scofield died in 1991, but his lifelong passion for historical lighting is being preserved by Jon and Doreen Joslow, who became familiar with Scofield's work while shopping for fixtures to warm their 1836 home in Chester, Conn. (pop. 3,743). The couple purchased the company in 2006 from a former Scofield employee who inherited the business and moved the operation to Ivoryton in 2003.
"Very few people would wake up and say, 'I want to make lighting fixtures that look 150 years old,'" says Jon, 54, who previously was an executive with a metals distribution company. "Something about this spoke to us. They have the values we appreciate in life. It ties back to the original spirit and intention as to why these fixtures were ever made. Yankees built them to last."
Scofield's artisans work in a 5,000-square-foot studio where they fabricate fixtures of various sizes, shapes and designs. Originally lit by oil or candle, the lights now accommodate electric bulbs. "They are built to today's exacting electrical specifications, but we hide our wires inside the metal so we don't obstruct the beauty of the fixtures," Jon says.
The finishing touches—as well as the finish itself—are key, as workers apply 22-carat Italian gold leaf or paints to yield an aged look. "Our patinas reflect the natural beauty of aged copper and tin; they are not powder coated or sprayed," says Doreen, 53.
Scofield products range from $300 to $8,000 each, with the most popular designs being reproductions of fixtures created between the Revolutionary War and Civil War. The company operates a showroom in New York City frequented by architects, builders and interior designers. Customers range from homeowners with a taste for history and craftsmanship to the New York Botanical Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg and the town of Chester.
"We didn't want some cheap knockoff," says Perry, who along with other downtown Chester merchants purchased historically accurate lampposts from Scofield in the mid-1980s to enhance their New England village.
"There is a lot of different architecture downtown, so the lighting fixtures unified us," Perry says. "It was important to make it look as though they had always been here."