As a writer and teacher, I have always had a relationship with paper and structure. My current obsession is lampshades. I take them apart and rebuild them in more interesting ways. I had a friend who was experimenting with water on silk shades, and she inspired me. Later my daughter was having a bad day, and I knew the cure was making something. We put an old lampshade on a broomstick, and she squirted paint on while I spun it. The shade isn’t that great, but it did the job.
Occasionally I have someone in mind when I’m constructing the shades. My Therapist’s lamp is very happy because seeing her made me feel that way. My father’s lamp is called “The Gambler”, and it’s playing cards, dice, and very gaudy. There is one called The Bride, a world map, one made out of handmade paper. One of my current favorites was made from a 50 lb. onion bag. Another from raffia and old Kodak negative strips from the 50’s. When the light is on, you can almost make out the people.
The shades are meant for working lamps, and although there is an element of fragility to them, they can all be mended with things around the house: rubber bands, rubber cement, and staples are my favorites.
Why do lampshades have to be boring? Why do they have to be the same size? Why doesn’t more happen with you turn them on? That’s why I started remaking lampshades. What perfect little spaces for something more interesting to happen, especially with the light on. That was the challenge right away: the lamp had to look good off and it had to look better on. The best example of this is the shade I did as a tribute to the bike riders run over in Kalamazoo in June. I hope I attached a photo. The prettiest one lit is made from parchment paper and painted tissue paper with copper wire and purple thread. So hard to work on but so satisfying when done. The one that is negatives is sedate as a button-down shirt when the light is off.
Every one of my lampshades (there are between 15 and 20) has been made with stuff that was lying around the house. Now it’s true, I never turn down any weird thing that people offer me. I have been given police tape, wasp nests, faux Barbies, rolls of paper, books: you name it. And I was lucky enough to teach and make years worth of Eric Carle-style painted tissues, which I use liberally. I have to think about things for several days before I know where to start. Like the police tape. I want to use that next, but it can’t be JUST police tape. Maybe a dismembered Barbie would be good here!
My dream is to do a reading with several of the lamps. I would walk around the room, read poems that match it, and then turn the lamp off until the reading is over and I turn the final lamp off! Oh I don’t want to forget that I perceived art as being an expensive pastime. Writing only took paper. My grandparents encouraged me to write. But that’s why I’m still more than satisfied with the stuff that comes into the house regularly. I especially like the net bags oranges come in. Just because you’ve never seen an orange bag lampshade doesn’t mean you wouldn’t love it!
Elizabeth Kerlikowske is the author of six chapbooks of poetry (Postcards, Her Bodies, Last Hula, Suicide Notes, Rib, Chain of Lakes), a collection of children’s stories (Before the Rain), and a prose poem memoir of her father (The Shape of Dad). Her first full length book of poetry is from Mayapple Press (Dominant Hand.) Her work has also been featured in several recent anthologies including Nothing to Declare: a Guide to the Flash Sequence, Solace, and the Michigan writers anthology published by WMU.
She has won the Detroit Auto Dealers Short Story Contest twice, the So To Speak magazine poetry award in 2004, The Binnacle’s 2008 Ultra-short Fiction Grand Prize, and numerous other prizes. She has received fellowships to the Atlantic Center for the Arts twice, Ragdale twice, the Georgia Arts and Letters Conference. She has been publishing poetry and fiction in journals and magazines for over twenty years as well as children’s stories in Guideposts for Kids (online) and New Moon, A Magazine for Girls.
Elizabeth recently retired from Kellogg Community College and completed her doctorate at Western Michigan University in 2007. She is president of Friends of Poetry, an organization in Kalamazoo dedicated to the enjoyment of the reading and writing of poetry. The group runs the annual POEMS THAT ATE OUR EARS contest, sponsors a reading series, and used to choose one poem each year which becomes a poetry mural on a downtown Kalamazoo wall. 9 murals are still intact. She also makes visual art that is usually big or illuminated.