Shedding light on upcycling

Museum workshop shows how to create lamps out of vintage items
An old bedspring makes an interesting light fixture. Photo by Bobbie Wilinski, courtesy of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
A metal collander is turned into a light fixture. Photo by Bobbie Wilinski, courtesy of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
A vintage grater brightens the room. Photo by Bobbie Wilinski, courtesy of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley

With a click, the light bulb came on and Sharon Beach flashed a big smile.

“My husband does this sort of thing, “ said Beach, 53, of Winchester. “He will be shocked when I bring it home.”

Beach had just taken an old metal grater from the kitchen and turned it into a lamp, one of nine women and a teenage boy who took a workshop last week at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley upcycling vintage graters, colanders and bed springs into unique light fixtures. Another workshop is scheduled February 28.

“I’m surprised it worked and smoke didn’t come out,” said Beach, who carefully followed the instructions of Bobbie Wilinski, 68, of Broadway, Virginia, who 18 months ago needed some light fixtures in her more than a hundred years old farmhouse and started tinkering to see what she could do.

Using antique tools she had been collecting for more than 40 years, Wilinski created some lamps; friends praised them and she became hooked, even making a lamp out of rolled barbed wire.

“Turning it on isn’t a problem but changing the light bulb is,” Wilinski said, noting she has sold some of her unique light bulb fixtures in shops in Wardensville, West Virginia and Harrisonburg.

Wilinski has worked as a nurse, teacher and accountant and the class at the museum was her first light fixture-making workshop.

“It’s exciting taking an inanimate object that you might discard and turning it into something useful,” she said.

Her favorite: “The most recent is usually my most favorite.”

As Wilinski walked the participants through the process – she taught them how to strip electrical wires and tell which is the hot wire, tie an electrician’s knot, attach wires so they don’t touch the socket and finish with the plug – the group became more and more collegial.

“I want a conversation piece, something cool,” said Becky Conaboy, 53, of Winchester, who came with her 18-year-old son Peter.

Elizabeth Henley of Gore, signed up her friend, Debbie Ritter of Winchester, as a birthday present, and Debbie joked, “I hope I don’t get electrocuted. I enjoy making crafts and this might be a new hobby. Maybe I can do it with a water can.”

“This is more challenging than I thought it would be,” said Peter Conaboy.

“It opens your eyes to see things in a different way,” said Enid McConnell of Winchester.

Near the end of the two-hour class, everyone’s light worked. Colanders and graters were adorned with bedsprings – one even added a small rubber wheel. Photos were taken and the feeling of accomplishment and pride was palpable.

Reservations for the Feb. 28 workshop ($45 for non-members, $40 for museum members) can be made by Feb. 25 at or by calling 540-662-1473, ext. 240.

The workshops are part of the museum’s exhibition “Second Time Around: The Hubcap as Art” with creations by 287 artists worldwide. The exhibit ends March 1.

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