Spotlight on a Craftsman – Tom Talpey

Following retirement from a career in electronics research at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Tom and his wife, Betty, moved to their former summer home in Washington, NH. Tom’s first lampshade was completed in 1983, after three years of experimentation and self-teaching. Since then he has completed nearly 350 shades of various sizes, shapes and materials.

Craftsmen Thomas TalpeyHe works mainly with polished slabs of jade or jade carvings, often combined with milk glass. He also makes a few all-glass shades using pressed glass medallions, or special hand-blown glass fragments. All shades are signed, numbered sequentially, and dated. The designs are mainly his own, with an occasional shade being a gemstone interpretation of a Tiffany Studios design. He has been a juried member of the League since 1985 and usually will have a one-of-a-kind shade in the Living With Crafts exhibit at the Annual Craftsmen’s Fair at the Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury, NH. He has frequently collaborated with other members of the League who have supplied lamp bases and glass-craft featured in the shades.

Tom constructs his shades using a copper foil technique, similar to that used by the famous Tiffany Studios in the early part of the 20th century. Seams between individual pieces are soldered and then copper plated or patinaed as a finishing touch. He mainly uses nephrite jade from British Columbia, although occasionally will use nephrites from Wyoming, Siberia, and New Zealand. He slices the jade into slabs about the thickness of window glass using a diamond-tipped sawblade. He polishes the slab using lapidary techniques, and then cuts and grounds it to the final shape. The light shining through the jade in the finished shade often reveals inclusions and constituents of the interior which are not otherwise seen. He has made a few shades using polished pieces of agate, rose quartz, amethyst or other translucent stones. Some of his shades are made with frosted fragments of colored art glass “scraps” produced in a tumbling process that produces a simulated “sea glass,” which looks as if it had been washed up on the beach.

Tom Talpey’s shades can be found in the homes of collectors from Maine to California and from Florida to western Canada. A few lamps have been sold through the Living With Crafts exhibits at the Annual Craftsmen’s Fair. They are also offered in galleries at Gibson’s at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, WV and at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO. They are sold in the Jade West shops in Hawaii, Anchorage, and British Columbia near where the jade is mined. Some overseas collectors have taken lamps to New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland and China.

An example of one of Tom’s lamps can be seen on display in our own League of NH Craftsmen’s Permanent Collection in Concord.