It is telling that Edison Price's trademark downlights and accent lights illuminate many of the world's great works of art. The inventor-engineer-designer is regarded today as somewhat of an old master himself. And like Rembrandt and Hals, he was among the first modern practitioners of his craft. With shadow and light, he could give a grand gallery the human contours of a Dutch tavern.
Price particularly favored restrained, low-brightness lighting that mimicked that of the natural world and developed a number of glare-free fixture types that have since become industry conventions. Recessed and track lighting are two of the best known inventions with which he has been credited.
The aptly-named Edison was born in Manhattan, the eldest son of theatrical lighting designer William Price who died when Edison was only eight. At 17, he joined Display Stage Lighting, the firm his father had founded and his mother continued to run. With no money for college, he learned the trade by studying technical journals published by the Society of Illuminating Engineers.
After 15 years, Price sold his share in the stage lighting company and in 1952, with $2,500 borrowed from a friend, set himself up as an independent designer and manufacturer in a rented, 1,000-sq.-ft.-loft located on Centre Street in Manhattan. With the help of John Mitchell, whom he met in a bar and later hired, Price began to fabricate, assemble, pack and ship his inventions, the first of which was a new kind of recessed silver bowl lamp downlight. Specified by Eleanor LeMaire for the original Neiman-Marcus store in Dallas, the downlights were functional and efficient, incorporating a no-nonsense design philosophy that would be applied to all of the company's fixtures. In 1955, Edison Price Lighting moved to 238 East 44th Street and four years later, relocated to its present quarters at 409 East 60th Street. The company expanded to include arguably the world's first lighting consultancy, which provided assistance to specifying customers on proper fixture installation and application.
Price's functional, less-is-more approach endeared him to the arrivistes of the new International Style, to whom he quickly became a frequent collaborator and confidant. Over the years, he worked with many of architecture's giants, contributing to the projects of Marcel Breuer, Louis Kahn and Buckminster Fuller. He worked on I.M. Pei's National Gallery in Washington, D.C., fashioned curtains of light on the lobby walls of Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building and bathed Philip Johnson's Four Seasons restaurant in light. His lights illuminate over 250 museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Louvre in Paris and the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth. In 1981, the American Institute of Architects conferred its AIA Medal on Price in recognition of “one who has brightened more excellent architecture than anyone else in history.”
Price preferred to approach each project individually, for many years frustrating management by declining to publish a catalog or sell to those whom he felt would use his products in bad taste. In 1989, Price resigned from the company he founded, leaving it to be run by his daughter, Emma Price. He subsequently founded Nulux in Brooklyn, where he continued to design specialized lighting.
Today, the special care Price took with each project is remembered by those in the industry. Called “a lighting designer's best friend,” he was known for offering a manufacturing facility that actually answered to the customer's needs and wants.
In 1990, Price was honored with the Illuminating Engineering Society's (IES) Richard Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the industry. Price died in 1997, on the night the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened a photography gallery lighted by his latest miniature fixtures.