Early humans first tamed fire to sustain themselves with cooked food and portable warmth. Soon after, some warm and well-fed ancestor of ours realized that we could also use it as a light source and came up with the idea of an oil lamp.
Early humans used shells, hollow rocks or any non-flammable material as a container, and animal fat for its fuel. The oldest stone-oil lamp we know of was found in Lascaux, France, in a cave inhabited 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.
These days, you can find rock lamps in Carbondale, the home of Lindy Loyd’s studio, where she hand-makes them out of pieces of granite she shapes with a sledgehammer in her driveway, and of her business, appropriately called Slab Happy Flaming Granite.
Loyd has lived in Southern Illinois for much of her adult life. She raised a blended family of three biological and several foster children and worked full-time at Carbondale Community High School for more than 30 years, but always found time to be creative.
“I’m an artist — I look at things differently than the average bear. I tend to stumble onto ideas and start thinking about how to make, invent or improve on them. For instance, when the wine trail first took hold here in Southern Illinois, I started making outdoor wine holders — you know, the ones you stake into the ground — because if you didn’t have a table within reach, there was nowhere else to put your wine glass,” Loyd said.
And that’s what happened with the granite oil lamps she makes today. Loyd said that while backpacking in Colorado she came across in-ground garden lamps made with large rocks and mason jars, and the idea just stuck in her head.
“Over a year later, I was sitting at the stop light by the Bank of Carbondale, and suddenly realized how to make those lamps both pretty and decorative — I needed to use granite. So I sped over one lane, and stopped at FWS Countertops and asked to root through their dumpster for small pieces so I could experiment,” Loyd said.
Loyd spent months doing research to find out how to drill through granite. At first, she worked with a hand drill and a spray bottle of water, before graduating to a drill press in a cement sink in her basement.
“It took almost two years from when I first got the idea to perfecting its execution — to make it safe, to do it right. I had to figure out what kinds of glue to use, what kind of caulking, what kind of oil, wicks and wick holders worked best,” Loyd said.
Now her process is fairly streamlined. To make 20 lamps takes her about four days. She begins the process in her driveway, where she takes slabs of granite and breaks them into smaller pieces with a sledgehammer.
From there she takes the best-looking pieces and grinds the edges of the stone until they lose their sharp edges but keep their organic shape. After drying for a day or two, Loyd takes them to her basement workshop and drills holes through each slab which serves as the pass-through for the wicks.
“It also took me a long time to figure out which lamp oil to use. I ended up choosing a liquid paraffin oil that burns really clean. There’s no smoke, so there’s no smoke spot on your wall or ceiling, and they last forever,” Loyd said.
Loyd sells her lamps at various farmers markets and craft shows throughout the Midwest, as well as by consignment.
“I am always surprised by my customers and their ideas for how to use what I make. One customer bought one for a friend whose mother had recently passed away. She gave it to her so she could light it whenever she was thinking about her mom. I just thought that was beautiful,” Loyd said.
Loyd has also made menorahs, and unity candles for people upon request, and has made larger pieces into cutting boards and cheese tray. She says many people purchase her work for gifts, or for holidays like Easter or Mother’s Day.
And she especially loves it when people ask who made them.
“They seem surprised a woman is the one wielding all the tools to make these. But you need to remember, I worked at CCHS for 30 years, and during that time I made my fair share of floats. I loved teaching girls that tools are tools, just with different purposes. A curling iron has one function, and a drill has another, and they can use both equally well,” Loyd said.
Loyd also works part-time at Barnes and Noble and serves on the Buckminster Fuller Dome Board of Directors. For someone who has technically retired, she keeps herself busy.
“I also have a love to travel, and one of my daughters lives in Colorado, so manufacturing and selling these lamps helps me get out to see her more frequently,” Loyd said.
But mostly, she says, she does it because she loves to create.
Loyd has written a children’s book and has another in the works. She continues to manufacture practical and decorative household art, and her work currently can be found on consignment at Cristaudo’s in Carbondale and Visions in Makanda.