Matthew Johnson’s sensitivity to light inspired him to design an ambient form of architectural light, which is not only aesthetically pleasing but is great for the environment.

Matthew, tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in a household where art supplies were more prevalent than toys. From youth, I took art classes and there was always a new art book to learn from in the house which I always looked forward to diving into. I see Earth as a master work of art while also being a canvas. I see abundant beauty where mundane items expose their vicissitude quality and transform into classic, functional fine art.

When did you establish your firm, Erleuchten Lamps?

2016 however, the first two collections were available to the public in January 2022.

Matthew Johnson owner of Erleuchten Lamps
Matthew Johnson owner of Erleuchten Lamps. Image by Matthew Johnson

What made you decide to go into the specialty of lamp design?

Regardless of my “day” job I’ve always been an artist. I see where art can be applied everywhere. Currently, I live in the Southern Oregon mountains with my wife and two dogs. Our woodpile is managed as an ever-changing work of art. Because I am light sensitive, architectural lighting is important to me. I’ve always loved how architectural lighting could change an environment on a grand scale, establish a mood, and change dynamically with a few minor adjustments. I found it difficult to find an elegant, organic, natural look and feel where the lighting felt as if it was grown from the Earth and emitted naturally. So, I decided to go on a journey to create art, in the form of architectural lighting, that sets a mood in an area with an organic and natural look and feel.

Erleuchten-Lamps. Image by Matthew Johnson

You use hardwood gourds for the lampshades. Why wood gourds as opposed to other materials?

In my search to find a way to create art in the form of architectural lighting, in simple terms a lamp, I looked at materials currently being used. Most lighting today is made from glass, metal, plastic, and/or fabric. None of which produce the natural and organic look I was going for and all heavily manufactured. Tone and color are very important in lighting. Being a fan of petrified amber and the color, it gives off when held up to the sun I wanted to incorporate amber into the color spectrum. I also wanted to incorporate whites, yellows, and oranges due to their psychological properties.

For several years before establishing Erleuchten Lamps I looked for a natural and organic ambiance and a way to softly incorporate all the colors. The type of gourd I use fulfilled all the requirements.

Shapes in design also have a psychological effect. The spherical shape of the gourds I use along with the shape I create in the base compliment the colors used promote elegant, healthy, calming lighting.

How light is refracted in a room is also incredibly important. I wanted to create a piece of art that can stand on its own in a room providing enough illumination to see but not overwhelm with brightness. The spherical shape of the gourd used evenly distributes light in an area. Designs worked into each piece, when turned on, refracts lights around a room without seams which can only be achieved using a spherical shape. There are zero bars used inside the “shade”, there are no structure lines from metal or glass pieces. This allows for elegant and unique design work only this medium and shape can provide.

What is the process you use to produce the lampshades?

Each piece of the lamp is a work of art working together to build a function art piece. The shade design falls into two categories. Math, and realism. When math is applied to a design, three gridded layers of spherical and fractal geometry are used as a base, a design is then applied. This process is done in my head. Once I have the design worked out in my mind, I hand-draw it on the gourd. A gourd is not a perfect sphere, so adjustments have to be made to compensate throughout this process to ensure an even design.

Where / how are the wood gourds sourced?

I buy from two farms in the United States that specialize in the type of gourd I use. I also grow my own gourds.

Erleuchten Lamps
Erleuchten Lamps. Image by Matthew Johnson

With buzzwords sustainability and eco-friendly, how do you maintain those in your designs?

The gourd and burl end cap requires zero manufactured processing. The base is made from a metal that requires nominal processing. The thread I use is all-natural and minimally processed to create. The bulb uses very little power.

Each lamp is custom-made. Are there ones in your collection that are more popular than others?

Each person has a unique perspective on my work being attracted to a piece for a myriad of reasons that may differ from the next person. Attraction to my work is evenly split across the catalog. Every piece is created individually and as a whole. Because I build every piece by hand, each piece gets my undivided attention throughout the entire process so one piece is not “better” than another. All pieces are created to fit into an overarching story, look and feel making my work easy to distinguish.

Is the Tani range named after your wife? Do you draw inspiration from her?

Tani is my wife and the most incredible person I know, open-minded, loving, heart of gold, and made of light. A fantastically creative and talented poet, illustrator, and pointillist. A thing that can only be experienced, as this may sound cliché, the two of us make a whole. She is an RN at a local hospital.

Erleuchten Lamps
Erleuchten Lamps. Image by Matthew Johnson

What is the favorite part of your job?

The average time it takes to build a home in the United States is 6.8 months. The average time it takes to build one Erleuchten Lamp is twelve months. This requires a high level of planning, commitment, perseverance, patience, love, creativity, knowledge of math and design, painting, metal forging, electrical, lighting, physical and mental aptitude. A machine cannot be used to mass-produce an Erleuchten Lamp; they all must be made by hand.

Have there been challenges along the way?

Yes! Immense challenges. With great fortitude, I taught myself pretty much everything in life, business, and technology. Teaching myself how to and building an Erleuchten Lamp is at the top of the most difficult things I’ve ever learned and done. From top to bottom, there is not a class to teach or prepare a person to embark on how to make a piece of art like an Erleuchten Lamp.

It took years to figure out the best tools needed to build an Erleuchten Lamp. I use over one hundred tools to make one piece and many I had to fabricate because the tool did not exist.

What is the lifespan of a lamp by Erleuchten Lamps?

The bulk of the material used to make an Erleuchten Lamp is wood and metal. If one of Erleuchten Lamps is cared for it, will last thousands of years.

Please explain your company motto “Lighting, Grown from the Earth”.

The tag or motto comes from the materials to the designs. Two elements that are rarely combined in art, are combined in every Erleuchten Lamps making them unique, wood and light. The gourd and endcap are both wood literally grown from the Earth then wood is worked into two pieces needed for each lamp. Erleuchten Lamps once completed, looks like they were grown from the Earth. A piece of art that blends into our environment emitting calming ambiance giving the gift of light. The coiled shape of each Erleuchten Lamp gives the appearance of a growing plant, or a coiled animal depending on how you look at it.