Lava lamps: 50 years old and still groovy

Updated 04 September 2013

Lava lamps: 50 years old and still groovy

Call them ’60s relics or hippy home accessories, lava lamps have been casting their dim but groovy light on interiors for half a century, having hit British shelves 50 years ago on Tuesday.
A British company began marketing their original creation as an “exotic conversation piece” in 1963. Since then, millions of models of the much-copied invention have been sold worldwide.
The design was created by British inventor Edward Craven-Walker, who was inspired by an odd-looking liquid-filled egg timer he saw in a restaurant in southwest Britain.
The former World War II pilot then spent years transforming the concept into a home lighting accessory, having recognized the potential for such an invention during anything-goes ‘60s Britain.
“Everything was getting a little bit psychedelic,” said Christine Baehr, the second of Craven-Walker’s four wives. “There was Carnaby Street and The Beatles and things launching into space and he thought it was quite funky and might be something to launch into.”
Britain’s “Love Generation” saw an affinity between the fluorescent lava flow’s unpredictable nature and the easy-going, drug-induced spirit of the decade.
Craven-Walker’s first model, the Astro Lamp, also reflected the technological innovation and imagination of the time, shaped like a sci-fi rocket. Soon other models, such as the Astro Mini and the Astro Nordic, emerged from Craven-Walker’s Crestworth company, building on his original concept.
Baehr recalls a memorable moment when they were told that Beatles drummer Ringo Starr had bought one of their lamps. “That was a great, ‘Ah we’ve made it,’ moment,” she said.
Despite the decline of British manufacturing, with numerous well-known brands dying or moving to countries with cheaper labor costs, lava lamp making company Mathmos has remained at their factory in southwest Britain still employing Craven-Walker’s tried and tested formula.
“I think it’s really special to manufacture something that’s been invented and made in Britain, in Britain for 50 years,” said Cressida Granger, who became involved with Crestworth in 1989, renamed it Mathmos in 1992 and gained sole ownership in 1999.
US rights to manufacture the lamps are held by Haggerty Enterprises Inc. of Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
Granger went on to enjoy a second wave of success for Craven-Walker’s invention during the 1990s, as a new generation of consumers, obsessed with retro British trends, lit their rooms with ‘60s lava lamp designs.
Craven-Walker, whose other enthusiasms included nudism, died in 2000.
Lava lamps are based on two liquids of slightly different density which will not mix. The heavier liquid sinks to the bottom, but when heated by the lamp light its density decreases and it floats to the top.
His invention has had roles in music videos and on television, having originally appeared in popular British television shows during the ‘60s such as “The Prisoner” and “Doctor Who.”
“I think it’s the motion within the lamp,” said Anthony Voz, a collector of Mathmos products. “The way that it flows, how it’s anti-repetitive, how it’s a mixture of light and chaos blending together. It kind of pulls people in and before you know it, you’ve spent 15 minutes looking at it.”


Mysterious obelisk in US desert draws wild theories

Updated 25 November 2020

Mysterious obelisk in US desert draws wild theories

  • Some observers pointed out the object’s resemblance to the avant-garde work of John McCracken

LOS ANGELES: A mysterious metal obelisk found buried in the remote western United States desert has inflamed the imaginations of UFO spotters, conspiracy theorists and Stanley Kubrick fans around the world.
The shiny, triangular pillar – which protrudes approximately 12 feet from the red rocks of southern Utah – was spotted last Wednesday by baffled local officials counting bighorn sheep from the air.
After landing their helicopter to investigate, Utah Department of Public Safety crew members found “a metal monolith installed in the ground” but “no obvious indication of who might have put the monolith there.”
“It is illegal to install structures or art without authorization on federally managed public lands, no matter what planet you’re from,” warned the agency in a tongue-in-cheek press release Monday.
News of the discovery quickly went viral online, with many noting the object’s similarity with strange alien monoliths that trigger huge leaps in human progress in Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Others remarked on its discovery during a turbulent year that has seen the world gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, and optimistically speculated it could have a different function entirely.
“This is the ‘reset’ button for 2020. Can someone please press it quickly?” joked one Instagram user.
“Up close it reads: ‘Covid vaccine inside’” wrote another.
Although officials have refused to disclose the object’s location out of fear that hordes of curious sightseers would flock to the remote wilderness, a Reddit user said they had managed to geo-locate the obelisk using surrounding rock formations.
Sharing the Google Earth location – where a small structure can be seen, roughly six miles from the nearest road – the user said the structure was first photographed by Google in 2016.
Bret Hutchings, the pilot who happened to fly over the obelisk, speculated that it had been planted by “some new wave artist.”
Some observers pointed out the object’s resemblance to the avant-garde work of John McCracken, a US artist who lived for a time in nearby New Mexico, and died in 2011.
On Tuesday a spokeswoman for his representative David Zwirner said it was not one of McCracken’s works, but possibly by a fellow artist paying homage.
However later in the day Zwirner gave another statement in which he suggested the piece was indeed by McCracken, meaning it had lain undiscovered in the desert for nearly a decade.
“The gallery is divided on this,” Zwirner said. “I believe this is definitely by John.”
He added: “Who would have known that 2020 had yet another surprise for us. Just when we thought we had seen it all. Let’s go see it.”
Either way, Hutchings admitted it was “about the strangest thing I’ve come across out there, in all my years of flying.”
“We were kind of joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, then the rest of us make a run for it,” he told local news channel KSLTV.