By William Moore
Brian Hubbard of Tupelo loves to tinker with things and find ways to give new life to items forsaken or forgotten by history.
His current artistic outlet is taking everyday items from the past and repurposing them as lamps. Whether it’s an old film camera, a lantern, a rotary dial phone, a fan, a heater or a film projector, he’s up to the task.
“I look at it and say, ‘Can I do it?'” Hubbard said. “It went together so it’s got to come apart. If it breaks, it breaks and I’ll start over and try something else.
“If you have a creative mind, let it go. The only thing that can stop you is you … or the bank.”
And it is not just a matter of sticking a bulb on top of phone and calling it a day. Hubbard takes painstaking care to hide his work. He takes everything apart so that cords, switches and bulb sockets are concealed within the piece. The coiled phone cords hide metal tubing that is bent by hand.
One point of pride is the on-off switch. For phones, the existing handset cradle activates a push button switch hidden inside. For cameras, the film advance knob is connected to a rotary switch. For camp style lanterns, the switch is the fuel tank cap.
While the work can be tedious and time-consuming, he enjoys the challenge.
“Tinkering is something I’ve always done,” Hubbard said. “My father started me in the 80s with snap together car models.
“Modern things are not designed for the average guy to work on them. People miss being able to take apart things and put them back together. That’s why I like old stuff. Things aren’t built like they used to be. They are more complicated than they need to be.”
During the week, Hubbard works at DeCa Autosound in Verona trying to figure out how to take apart modern cars to try to conceal audio equipment. So on the weekends, the 38-year-old husband and father likes to unwind tinkering in a shed behind the house.
“My shop is my little piece of heaven,” Hubbard said. “It gets me in the right mindset.”
It was a fluke that Hubbard started building lamps. A friend gave him an old green rotary phone and asked him what he was going to do with it. He laughingly replied he would make it into a lamp. And thus a side business was born.
“I have sold several,” Hubbard said. “Usually it’s friends or the family of friends. All I have to do is post it on Instagram and it’s gone.”
But in a world of smartphones that have built-in cameras, where can you find rotary phones – which were phased out in the 1980s – or a film cameras that met the same fate about 20 years later? He finds stuff on E-bay, antique stores and thrift stores. He also has friends who will see things, text a picture to Hubbard to see if he wants it.
When Hubbard does get a new piece, he doesn’t polish or dress it up too much. He prefers that patina that only comes with age.
“I try to keep things old and rusty looking,” Hubbard said. “I like the old stuff. It tells a story.
“And I even learned some things. Some of the old ITT (International Telephone and Telegraph) phones were built at a plant in Corinth in the 60s and 70s.”
The key component of any lamp is the light bulb. There are thousands of styles, types and wattages to choose from. He has to decide if the lamp will be used as a light source (with a standard bulb and lampshade) or will it be more of an artistic piece. For the latter, he can be more creative in choosing a bulb shape and size.
Sometimes the bulbs choose the project. Other times, he sees a piece and instantly knows what kind of bulb it needs. That was the case when he found a wire wall hanging in the shape of a small guitar. In his mind, he knew it needed two long slender bulbs – on in the neck and one in the body.
“There are some crazy bulbs out there,” Hubbard said. “There are all kinds of Edison bulbs (clear with visible filaments). I have one that looks like a gem stone.
“Ones like that, you can’t just go to a local store and pick up one. I have to go to the internet for most of them. I even have one that’s 26 inches around (the size of a volleyball) that I will use on a brass coat rack I am turning into a lamp for my wife.”
So what is on the horizon for Hubbard. He’s got several projects on tap. He found an old marching French horn that he is contemplating. And he is trying to figure out how to make a lamp out of a vase.
On the ambitious side, he plans on adding light bulbs to the blades of an old metal desk fan. In addition to lighting up, the blades and bulbs will rotate around 25 times a minute.
“I already know how I’ll do it. It’s just a matter of getting time to sit down and start.”
For more of Hubbard’s design, visit his Instagram site @briansbriteideas.