Twisted Wire in the Woods

Well, I’ve already established that I see wire everywhere (see this blog post), but I surprised even myself when I managed to find twisted wire in the woods.  OK, it’s not twisted electrical wire, but I had to investigate it anyway.

Note that it runs along an old rock wall.  You can tell by the height of the wire how tall the wall was originally.  There were sheep kept in this area, when it was pasture, before reverting to woods, and the height of the wall does seem appropriate for walling in sheep.

I had imagined that this wire was a precursor to barbed wire, used before they had invented the barbs.  But it seems it was used for “thin-skinned” animals, such as sheep and horses, so that animals would not be hurt by barbs.  There are also versions of it with serrated edges and some that have barbs attached to it.  It was patented by Jacob & Warren M. Brinkerhoff of Auburn, New York, and made by The Washburn & Moen Company in Worcester, MA.

Washburn and Moen

In my search to investigate this wire, I found that there exists a Barbed Wire Museum, right here in Massachusetts (because Worcester, MA, was a big wire-manufacturing area, although I think this is a virtual museum only), the Devil’s Rope Museum in Texas, and barbed-wire sections in several other museums around the country.  Who knew that there are more than a few people who collect barbed wire, sometimes donating their collections to said museums?

This wire seems to be called by several names: horse wire, ribbon wire, horse pen wire, horse ribbon wire, Brinkerhoff barbless ribbon, and a few more.

Brinkerhoff_fencing
A drawing of Brinkerhoff fencing materials including barbed and non-barbed versions of the ribbon wire.

And, of course, clever people have made lamps and pendants from barbed wire.  The perfect use for our dark brown cotton twisted pair wire.

 

Anyway, I thought this wire was kind of beautiful, but I am known to be a fan of twisted wire.

twisted fence wire

 

 

 

Lisa Raphael – Raphael Creations

Raphael Creations vintage camera lamp

We’d like to introduce Lisa Raphael of Raphael Creations. Lisa has been a Sundial Wire customer since 2012 and we chatted with her to find out more about her work and the process she brings to creating her pieces.

Lisa Raphael of Raphael Creations

Sundial Wire: Could you describe your work and how you got started making lighting?

Lisa Raphael: Growing up, I collected many different artifacts – from cameras to typewriters and instruments. I create functional artwork out of vintage non-working materials. Raphael Creations started with an old Underwood typewriter that was collecting dust. Next thing you know, I turned it into a lamp. I literally started creating lighting out of anything I could get my hands on as long as it was early 1800s and 1900s. Continue reading Lisa Raphael – Raphael Creations

Movies, Gangsters, and Cloth-Covered Wire (You Have to Start Somewhere)

Dutch Schultz shot

Just who is Arthur Flegenheimer, and what does he have to do with Sundial Wire, anyway?

The answer would probably surprise you more than him.  Jim founded this company, in 1992, because virtually every single major electrical wire and cable company in the United States, had long since ceased to make cloth-covered twisted lamp cord. It was an obsolete product, no longer in demand. As a set decorator for feature films and television shows Jim had worked on many period movies and TV shows, such as The Kennedys of Massachusetts, the comedy Mermaids, and the Civil Rights era drama Love Field. Part of his job included first researching the period, then recreating authentic, period-correct sets, right down to the smallest details: stringing knob-and-tube wiring in an attic, or re-wiring an antique electric lamp or electric fan with the correct wire for the period.

Jim Kent and Jim Erickson on set of Love Field, 1990
Jim Kent (left) and Jim Erickson (right) on the set of Love Field.

Which brings us back to Arthur. Sort of.

In the winter of 1990-1991, Walt Disney’s Touchstone Pictures division was in the middle of producing a filmed adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s novel, Billy Bathgate. The novel was a coming of age tale set in a world of New York gangsters and bootleggers, the principal of which was Arthur Flegenheimer, more commonly known as Dutch Schultz. The movie featured Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Willis, a just-breaking-out Nicole Kidman, and a name NEVER associated with any of the above, James V. Kent — who at that time was a young lead set dresser tasked with running the crews who were dressing the location and stage sets in Wilmington and Hamlet, North Carolina.

Jim Kent decorating an office set for the movie Billy Bathgate
Jim waiting patiently for a dial tone on a Billy Bathgate set, circa winter 1991.

The story took place in the early to mid-1930’s, and the town of Hamlet doubled for the upstate town of Malone, New York, where Dutch was on trial for tax evasion. Jim worked with an amazingly talented art department transforming many empty storefronts into period retail shops, such a hardware store, a Rexall Drugstore, an art deco movie theater, among many others. No detail was spared as this was the tail end of the era when everything was done “old school.” Today the art department might cheat and just change some key elements, leaving other things to the visual effects artists. Streetlights are a good example. Now it might be too expensive to change over an entire street’s streetlights, when they can be painted out and replaced digitally. But back then it was not really possible or practical to change things digitally.

The Terminal Hotel set exterior for the movie Billy Bathgate
The gangster’s lair: the Terminal Hotel set exterior, Hamlet, NC

One of the biggest makeovers on Billy Bathgate involved the remodeling of an old derelict hotel in town called the Terminal Hotel. An exterior portico was designed, skirting the front and side. Inside, hundreds of yards of custom carpet were laid down. Brass railings were  installed everywhere. And many, many light fixtures. It was common in the ’20s and ’30s, to retrofit a building — especially the less grand spaces like the individual hotel rooms — by running a string of twisted two conductor-cord up and along the wall, across the ceiling, and then dropping it to a pendant fixture. In this way a building could be electrified quickly without an expensive gut job. Electrical and building codes would catch up to and eliminate this practice — but the set decorating department on Billy Bathgate researched it, found it was done, and so determined that exposed wiring was a good “period” look.

Terminal Hotel room with twisted wire installed. From the movie Billy Bathgate.
You can check in but you can never leave: The Terminal Hotel. See if you can spot the twisted cord.

You see where this is going, right?  Jim was buying all the cloth-covered twisted wire he could find in local hardware stores and electrical supply houses. Remarkably, everyone seemed to have a roll, or half a roll, on hand. Or a roll in the basement. But that was it. And when he tried to order more, the answer was always no. There was no more. No one was making it. He phoned the wire companies on the spools, many of them in Rhode Island: Royal Electric Company, Carol Cable, American Insulated Cable. If he could get someone on the phone  (some of these companies were already in receivership)  these people would either laugh, or sympathetically shrug, but the answer was always the same: No more cloth-covered wire. Anywhere.

Royal Electric Company spool of vintage cloth covered wire
The Holy Grail: “I know you don’t have any. But can I get it in black?”

Which to Jim, sounded a lot like a problem to be solved.

To be continued…