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Creatively Handcrafted Lighting - Lampscapes is Part of White River Junction’s Commercial Renaissance.

Mar 29, 2023 08:17PM ● By Chris Jackson Photography by Jack Rowell

I love visiting White River Junction, Vermont, a thriving hub that offers an array of restaurants, shops, and cultural amenities, all on the human scale of a small town. You can easily spend a happy afternoon browsing such attractions as Little Istanbul, Vermont Salvage, or the Main Street Museum; grab a bite at one of the fine eateries like Thyme or Tuckerbox; and then round out the day with an event at Briggs Opera House or Northern Stage’s Barrette Center for the Arts. Sometimes the only challenge can be finding a parking space. It wasn’t always this way.

The Connecticut River’s status as a boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire often passes without notice, but after Vermont imposed a statewide sales tax in 1969, virtually all commercial investment fled the Vermont side of the Upper Valley and landed in tax-free New Hampshire. After a few years, the river came to separate a shiny new world on the New Hampshire side of the river—rich with shopping malls, fast food joints, and famous retail franchises—from a world on the Vermont side that seemed stuck in the 1950s, a tired collection of old mill towns and railroad junctions with little economic activity. Vermonters in towns like White River Junction watched as a whole new universe took shape across the river along Route 12A in West Lebanon and the Miracle Mile. There was no shortage of parking spaces, but at times it felt like history was passing them by.

Going Back to Local and Handmade

Today, things have really changed. Shopping malls and department stores, with their similar mass-produced products, are in decline. Meanwhile, independently owned stores in traditional downtowns like White River Junction offer unique products, often made locally, and are luring shoppers back to Vermont from the malls on the other side of the river.

One such shop, Lampscapes, is part of this commercial renaissance. Founded 25 years ago by Ken Blaisdell, a soft-spoken former high school math teacher and machine parts salesman, Lampscapes offers a selection of handcrafted lamps and lampshades. Originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, Ken moved to Vermont 40 years ago, lured by the natural beauty of the area. But like many transplants, he discovered that making a living in the north country wasn’t so easy. As a side hustle, Ken began building lamps, often incorporating found objects. Some made use of recycled industrial pieces, like repurposed brake rotors and cast-iron stove lids (excellent untippable bases!), and in others, he incorporated disused household items, like musical instruments. For the shades, Ken drew on his lifelong interest in art and painted them by hand. For three years, he sold the resulting lamps at the Norwich Farmers’ Market. Interest was strong enough that he decided to open his own storefront in sleepy downtown White River Junction. Today, the business and the town are both thriving.

What Makes These Products Unique?

Ken is a person who combines an instinct for functionality with an artist’s drive for creative self-expression. The lamps themselves are an interesting conglomeration of recycled parts, hand-fabricated components, and machined steel that have a vaguely steampunk vibe. But it is the shades that constitute the bulk of Ken’s business. He hand-paints them with an impressive range of styles and motifs, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources like art books, museum exhibits, old Japanese prints, or photographs of prehistoric cave paintings. Some of them are pretreated with mineral oil to make them semitranslucent, resembling antique Victorian mica, and Ken uses all varieties of paint as well as other media like decoupage and block printing. When you buy one of Ken’s lamps or shades, you know you are getting a product that can be found nowhere else in the world.

Some of the designs that caught my eye on a recent visit: riotous art-nouveau flower arrangements; a Vermont landscape under a turbulent sky; animal figures that resemble prehistoric cave paintings; seabirds scurrying on the beach that seem drawn from Japanese calligraphy; and organic-looking abstract designs in shades of brown, based on a recent exhibit of Australian bark paintings at Dartmouth’s Hood Museum.

Experience the Magic

The shop is worth a visit even if you are not in the market for a new lamp or shade. With sunlight streaming through the huge windows that line the front and the wild variety of lampshades hanging on the walls from floor to ceiling, mixed in with some of Ken’s paintings (also interestingly diverse), the shop is magical. To enter it is to enter Ken’s custom-built aesthetic universe, which is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Off to the side is his ramshackle workshop, where he can be seen most days churning out his amazingly diverse work. And if the existing designs are not to your liking, Ken will to create custom shades based on criteria that you set, often right on the spot.

Ken and his brother Barry are happy to welcome you to Lampscapes, a jewel of Vermont’s Upper Valley renaissance. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am until 5pm.


77 Gates Street

White River Junction, VT

(802) 295-8044

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