By Emilie Sommerhoff
When George Atkinson gave up dairy farming almost six years ago, he took the opportunity to realize a vision that had been staring him in the face during 50 years of twice-a-day milkings: a standing lamp made from old stanchions, the device that, in old-style dairy barns, was used to keep the cow in her stall. After the sale of his Livingston, New York-located farm, from which he salvaged 10 stanchions, Atkinson built the first lamps for himself and his daughters. He did not expect the project to turn into the part hobby/part side business it has become. But when a neighbor, whose father had also owned-and retired-a local dairy farm, ordered three for himself and his children, Atkinson realized there was something in his idea.
The Stanchion Lamp, in its sturdy 68-inch-tall steel and wood form, hints at the physical demands inherent in the farming lifestyle. Indeed, the fixture's appeal lies in its touching tribute to a mode of life that is quickly trending toward extinction. Stanchion barns are long a thing of the past, as the older dairies either went out of business or converted to the more efficient model of tie-stall, and most recently free-stall, barns. Each lamp is numbered-Atkinson just labeled his 62nd-and as he describes the components that make up each fixture (the stanchion is merely the body), it reads as a chronicle of local Columbia County farms in transition. Lamp #57, for example, features barn cleaner parts (which act as the lamp's feet) from the Meisner Farm in Greenport, New York; chain links (which are welded to support the lamp apparatus) from Sunnymead Farm in nearby Hillsdale; and bale wire from Stonehouse Farm in Livingston. The stanchion itself came from Martin Schroeder's barn, also in Livingston.
Fabrication, which includes refinishing the original wood details, and cleaning and painting the individual metal pieces before they are welded by neighbor Reginald Shook Jr, is a 15-hour process. About a year ago, Atkinson expanded the line, which uses a standard incandescent source, to include a table lamp, using a slightly different configuration of the stanchion and components. The smaller version is a little over 33 inches tall.
The Stanchion Lamp Company project is also a gesture toward the community that small farming once supported: to every farmer that donates his old stanchions, Atkinson gifts a lamp fashioned from the farmer's own equipment. While about 100 stanchions await fabrication in his shop, the supply is necessarily limited by the decreasing number of dairies and the requirement that the components be authentic. He believes there are still enough materials from Columbia County farms to keep him in business for the near future. Nevertheless, Atkinson, who still trucks cattle for local farmers, keeps his eyes open for the pieces he needs as he visits farms throughout the Northeast. No doubt, he will take the same time and trouble to record the origin of each lamp, no matter how far the parts have traveled.