Copper in the Arts

August 2016

Northeast Lantern: Shedding New Light on the Classic Copper Lantern

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

When Skip Heal started Northeast Lantern 29 years ago, the quality and craftsmanship of his copper and brass light fixtures meant just as much to him then as they do now.

Northeast Lantern's Onion collection of lanterns they offer in many different copper and brass finishes. Northeast Lantern's Onion collection of lanterns they offer in many different copper and brass finishes.
Photograph courtesy of Northeast Lanterns. 

“When a customer comes to us for a lighting fixture, they have usually pursued other avenues first and find they do not withstand Mother Nature’s weather,” Skip says. “When they find Northeast Lantern, they are buying the best product they can buy with a lifetime guarantee and I will stand by that guarantee.”

Today, his son Christopher is at the helm of the business located in Exeter, New Hampshire.

“He is running the business right now and eventually, he will completely take over,” Skip says.

Christopher, who has already been working with Northeast Lantern for fifteen years, is in the process of implementing new philosophies and theories into the business. Three years ago he brought in a product development engineer.

“He is doing two new releases a year,” Christopher says. “We also ask all employees for their designs. We have taken some of those to market, so some of our employees get to see their designs from the ground up.”

Northeast Lantern's copper and brass lighting fixtures are handcrafted in Exeter, New Hampshire.Northeast Lantern's copper and brass lighting fixtures are handcrafted in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Photograph courtesy of Northeast Lantern.

Northeast Lantern’s legacy is centered on a specific style of design customers have come to expect, which is why Christopher is approaching that facet of the business delicately when it comes to new designs in the line.

“I’m trying to incorporate contemporary, but slowly,” he says. “I’m trying to mesh colonial and contemporary together and offer both styles so we can hit more of the market with our offerings. Where we come with history it’s a colonial feel, so I can’t do a knee jerk reaction and throw customers off base.”

All of their designs are available in either solid brass or copper.

“We offer two finishes in copper -- raw copper and antique copper,” he says. “All of our finishes are hand applied in a controlled environment. It’s a natural, living material that will take its course and will age beautifully when exposed.”

Over the years they have entertained using other metals.

Copper chandelier by Northeast LanternCopper chandelier by Northeast Lantern. 
Photograph courtesty of Northeast Lantern.

“Some of our clients have asked us to use other metals and we have, but they have failed because they don’t withstand the elements,” Christopher says. “Our draw to brass and copper is longevity.”

Christopher shares how they approach design at their headquarters where everything is under one roof, from marketing to customer service and production to shipping. Forty-four of Northeast Lantern’s fifty-three employees work in production.

“We don’t have CAD,” he says. “We still hand draw everything or hand bend the metal. We are really going back to the Stone Age in how we design products.”

While they offer indoor as well as outdoor fixtures, eighty percent of what they sell is for outdoor use, many for seaside structures.

“One of our biggest distributors is on Nantucket,” Christopher says. “We also have a distributor in Bermuda. We do inland too.”

Northeast Lantern sources most of their materials from a mill in New York.

“We get flat sheets of brass and copper that are three foot by eight foot,” he says. “We literally cut the metal to the specific sizes. From there we use bar folders, punches, circle shears and rollers.”

Northeast Lantern's Woodcliffe copper lantern.Northeast Lantern's Woodcliffe copper lantern.
Photograph courtesy of Northeast Lantern.

The next step involves their in-house patterns that enable them to have consistency with each handmade design.

“Once all of the pieces are fabricated, we put them in the soldering department,” Christopher says. “You take all of the pieces and you solder them together to form the frame.”

When the soldering is complete, they have the raw frame of their brass or copper fixture.

“From there,  it goes in the finishing department,” he says. “It has a five-water-tank process. We etch the metal and apply the hand finish.”

Next, the fixture goes through final assembly and wiring. A final finish is also put on at this time given the impurities resulting from the water-based chemicals in the previous process.

“We wire it, glass and test it, so that all of our fixtures are safe for consumer use,” he says.  

Christopher’s personal favorite finish is a dark, antique brass.

“What it shows me is that you have the hand-applied natural beauty the artist has put forth and you see the natural metal shining through the finish that they apply, so I get to see both aspects of the metal,” he says. “Me, coming from manufacturing, I know what they have done to create that finish and I get to see the living metal that never dies.”

Resources:

Northeast Lantern, Ltd., 6 Commerce Way, Exeter, NH, (603) 778-2468

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