Ugly Lamps Are Guaranteed to Stimulate Your Senses

Located on the second floor of the Home and Family Arts Building at the Indiana State Fair, this year’s selection of Ugly Lamps is guaranteed to stimulate your senses.

The three abalone shells that gave up their flesh to form an Honorable Mention  in this category surely inspire some kind of sensation, though it might be disgust (or even shame). The smallest shell has been highly polished, perhaps as an accent to the light that escapes from the exposed respiratory holes of the doomed creatures. These natural apertures certainly made much less work for the “craftsman” who assembled it.

Honorable Mention also is awarded to a standard trope of mid-century homes: this particular “boudoir” lamp has a satin finish bestowed upon the clear glass forms making up its body and shade. A clever manufacturer has used the same mold for both components, and with the addition of a few standard forms, has created a functional, if disproportionate, piece. Chosen for its popularity, its pastel green color unfortunately casts a bilious tint to one’s face, rendering moot the point of beauty—once tantamount to milady’s bedroom.

Third place goes to an entry with a subtly-fluted clear-glass pear-shaped receptacle that forms the bulk of the base (so cheaply made that heat has made some of it crack). The plastic fruit enclosed within hints at the former freshness of life. Perhaps a sort of Memento Mori pathos (cue the violins!) expressed and acknowledged? In homage to some unknown Early American influence, a cheaply-plated brass font key remains on the side near the top, as useless as the design principles expressed. An original gold shade trimmed in black remains.

Stimulating the senses in size alone, the second-place entry’s base stands 25 inches high, not accounting for a much too small un-original shade. Had the equally-massive drum shade not been replaced, this entry might have garnered first place. The term “Mediterranean” is enough to stir emotion, but when one sees it epitomized in a faux-marbleized gold and silver pierced base, accented with faux blown-glass (i.e. plastic) inserts that glow avocado when lit, one is transported back in time. Mind you, not back to the days of the Conquistadors of Colonial Spain, not to the excesses of Spanish Baroque design, and not even to the horrors of the Inquisition. Make it the waning years of the 1960s and early ‘70s, when taste itself had abandoned all hope.

Next our sights and emotions are set on discovering our winner. Envision a bow-legged poodle, his fur rendered in “cole slaw” pottery. Bedecked in a black bow, which also serves as reins for a pottery garden cart, he reluctantly draws a cascade of waxy plastic flowers. Pink sponged decoration on the conveyance clashes hideously with the dulled and muddy sepia tones of the faded florals. But wait! Add a hidden (but original) small fiberglass shade to a pottery addition on the back, and voila! An instant first-place genuine 1950s TV-lamp winner. 

If your heart can take these many sensations, and if you can wrap your head around the travesties found in the 14 entries in this year’s contest, plan to visit the Indiana State Fair July 28 through August 20. While there, you also may enjoy the many true and wonderful examples of quality antiques and vintage ware found in the several other categories.