Good News From Francis, The Lamp Man

Leg up?

Sometimes there’s a need to find a good lamp guy. The guy the other lamp guys go to who really knows where it’s at. That guy is Francis Nowalk of Pittsburgh (or for those of you who want to get persnickety about it, Bloomfield, PA, the Little Italy of Pittsburgh).

Francis has a massive stone building that looks more like a cavernous school than a shop. In it, he keeps scores of lamps, old and new, on which he assiduously works with the help of big, heavy machines.

If you are nice to him, he’ll sneak you past a pair of handsome, leather-encased, brass-studded double doors in the back to his secret stash of high-end chandeliers.

I happen to be living on the second floor of a Victorian house in a Norman Rockwell town. During the day it is glorious, but at night it can be a little scary. Whenever I descend the long stair in the evening for wine on the porch with friends, I am unsettled by the pervasive darkness of the foyer. Perhaps it is the old-house vibes; perhaps it is just my imagination. But I don’t care for it. So I began looking into alternatives.

At the base of the bannister where the handrail terminates there used to be a Newel post lamp. In Victorian times, it just wasn’t enough for a balustrade to end, it had to finish off magnificently. As a result, it became a place for the layering of carved finials, lights and small-scale figural sculpture.

For me, the light part was what I was after.

As it happens, the two people who own the house have purchased just such an antique Newel post lamp for the bannister, but it needs to be rewired, resoldered and refinished.

Enter Francis.

This lovely elderly man turned out to be the most subtle and outstanding of salesmen. He asks, “What would you like me to do with this?” I point to the frayed wires inside the arms of the statue holding its bouquet of lights and say, “Make it safe, make it serviceable.” He looks at one of the owners, who’s accompanied me, and says, “Is this for your house? Is this for your main stairwell?” Yes and yes. “Do you plan on keeping your house for a long time?” Of course. Well then, says Francis, would you like for me to make the lamp look good?

What could we say? We were in his thrall.

So Francis got our blessing to add copper leaves, rebronze the thing, if he likes. Add gold leaf, whatever. How long will it take? “Two weeks,” he says. And then he winks: “The last two years have been hard. But now I am very busy again. Things are picking up.”

Yesterday, 11-11-11, also saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average claw past 12,000, effectively putting our Awful Autumn behind us. My friends on Wall Street say things are looking up too. Let’s hope they are right.

If only it was all in Francis the Lamp Man’s calloused hands.

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