Lords of Light
The Luxury of Light. Poets have waxed eloquent on its qualities. Photographers and architects consider it an artistic license to create. And for three local companies, it's a bread-and-butter tool they use to illuminate their respective niches in the Portland market.
If Eric Kaster has anything to say about it, he’d prefer to be called an artist. But for those looking for more specific information about his work medium of choice, he’ll add another title to his resume: patternmaker.
Patterns are wood “positives” used to make molds, which are used to turn out metal castings. Most patterns these days are created by computers. Patternmaking of the hand-crafted kind, which is Kaster’s forte, is an area few lay claim to as their own these days, a fast-fading skill that requires one be equal parts engineer, woodworker and designer.
Kaster leaned patternmaking from his father and grandfather, with the expectation that he would continue the family’s Portland business making utilitarian parts for heavy equipment such as generators. But a few years ago, Kaster decided his pattern-making skills would best be put to work turning out items of a more creative nature.
These days, Kaster plies his craft—and his art—by carving and whittling wood into patterns used to create self-styled items such as tiles, hardware, and even a line of enameled kitchen sinks. But the bulk of his business, a company called Eleek that he runs out of a North Portland warehouse with his wife Sattie Clark, focuses on custom lighting fixtures.
Both Kaster and Clark describe their company as a “small” one, but Eleek has managed to capture a share of some high-profile Portland projects: restoring historic light fixtures at the Portland Art Museum; and designing sconces, door handles and a bronze casting for the Burlington Lofts high-rise in the Pearl District. More recently, Kaster and his staff created nearly 80 fixtures for the newly opened Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, Washington.
As more architects view the end result of Kaster’s talents, he’s earning an enviable spot on teams working on buildings in the Portland area. He’s often called in during the design phase of a project to dovetail building features with lighting styles. Later—a timespan of sometimes 12 months—Kaster and his crew actually begin producing fixtures, giving them a chance to see the end result of their work.
For now, potential clients interested in learning about Eleek’s projects have to visit the company to see sample’s of Kaster’s work. Eventually, however, he and Clark, who handles marketing for Eleek, would like to see some of their designs offered in a limited number of retail stores.
“Creating a manufactured market in Portland is a different business than turning out products for projects,” Clark says. “Its tiny steps, convincing dealers to carry your products.”