When visual artist and Lake Lotawana resident Barbara Cosgrove sought to expand her audience beyond a limited number of patrons purchasing her original paintings, she decided to transition to designing lamps which she viewed as sculpture – art that could be designed, manufactured and readily accessible to anyone.
“The greatest compliment an artist could be paid is for a patron to take art into their home and live with it,” says Cosgrove, quoting ceramicist Ken Ferguson.
So more than 14 years ago, Cosgrove began designing simple clay and metal lamps in her garage studio. She crafted lamp bases of clay pots, and also added a few lamps with bases crafted of silver candlesticks and old books.
“I didn’t sell one clay lamp,” Cosgrove says. “That’s why I gave people options. I didn’t know what would sell. To this day I don’t know what’s going to sell.”
Early on, orders for Cosgrove’s book and candlestick lamp bases were overwhelming, and she began building her industrial design business with tenacity and creativity. Today she is a leading designer in the lighting industry with her lamps, fixtures, furniture and accessories gracing homes around the country.
For Cosgrove, inspiration as a visual artist comes from everything she sees in the world around her. She possesses bachelors of arts degrees in fashion illustration and ceramics and a master’s degree in visual arts, but she has been an artist all her life, not ever as a decision, but as something innate.
“I read that creative people have very messy minds.
This answers the question constantly asked of artists ‘How did you think of that?’ Cosgrove says.
“Ideas that most people compartmentalize get all scrambled together and end up as creativity.”
Cosgrove describes the style of her design line as her personal style – things that she likes. Her Lake Lotawana home is a collection of things she is drawn to, an eclectic blend of modernity and tradition all accented by lighting from her own line. The glossy white resin Chinese Foo Dog table lamp stands with a front paw raised at attention. On an end table, a glossy gray undulating ceramic gourd lamp base with an ecru shade is elegant in its simplicity yet whimsical with a tassel lamp-pull.
Cosgrove entered the marketplace and began having her designs manufactured internationally almost from the very beginning. Metal is imported from India and glass from Poland and Mexico. Many lamps are assembled in her North Kansas City shop, but some completely finished lamps are imported from Vietnam. All shades are made in the same U.S. factory that made her first shades years ago.
“I’m an artist but not really a crafts person,” Cosgrove says. “I can design something and make it, but the level of construction I need for something mass-marketed can only come from someone who is much more talented at making things than I am.”
Even as her business has grown and her style has evolved over the years, Cosgrove keeps the ‘Alicia’ candlestick lamp as first in her inventory as a nod to where she began, even if something new comes ahead of it alphabetically.
While Cosgrove is located locally, her inventory is open only to those with a wholesale license. Her client list that now numbers in the thousands includes many designers, interior decorators, commercial projects and boutique hotels.