Randy Smith has been a resident of Colorado since 1973. Growing up in New Jersey, like almost any boy, he loved Tinker Toys. He enjoyed putting the pieces together to create designs from his own imagination. He soon moved on to Erector Sets. From there, he focused on objects he found in the outside world.
Randy has always been a creative individual. He and his wife Gail are both musicians and express themselves in music. Ultimately, it was the outdoor world that had the greatest pull for Randy. Settling in Park County, Colorado, he wandered the backcountry of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, looking for something special.
He found that something when he started paying attention to designs and patterns found in the natural world. He stumbled upon a stand of Limber Pine and their exposed roots. Its uniqueness and rarity spoke to him – called out to him – to do something special with this wood.
At first, he didn’t know what he would or even could do with gnarled wood. It was his imagination and his creativity that saw its potential, and Foxtail Designs was born.
The lamps are made from natural materials.
The wood comes from the roots of the Bristlecone Pine. The roots that are harvested can be one to two thousand years old. Bristlecone Pines can live thousands of years before giving in to lightning, fire, or simply old age. The tree fall falls or is blown over, exposing the root system.
While the tree trunk rots away, the root system, which is harder and much more dense, takes a longer time to decompose. In the arid atmosphere of the high mountains, the root is slow to change, giving in reluctantly to the forces of brilliant sunshine, wind and snow, which create intricate facets and brings out beautiful and natural colors.
These pieces of root lie on mountainside, slowing developing their character and beauty. They wait, quietly and patiently, for someone to come along and recognize the character and potential they hold.
The artist is one who sees the potential in the wood. In essence, the wood speaks to the artist, showing him the work of art inside. Once the artist finds such a piece, it is loaded carefully on to a pack frame and carried out to the artist’s studio.
The second natural material is a hallmark of a Foxtail Design lamp. The bases and accent shelves are made of pieces of granite known as “talus,” found in rock falls high above tree line in Colorado’s Mosquito Range. Like of the roots of the Bristlecone Pine, these pieces of granite are often nothing but interesting or nice looking pieces of rock. To the artist, though, they are the handy work of nature. They may be simply plain slabs of granite, or they can be pieces where as many as ten different species of lichen have made their home.
While the artist looks for pieces that will help complete the vision of the lamp that he already has in mind, he remains open to finding those unique pieces of granite that “call to him,” evoking to him a vision of a lamp or piece that it can compliment.
The process of searching for and harvesting of Bristlecone and talus can be time consuming. The joy of finding just the right piece is equal only of the joy and pleasure of the search.
Once the artist sees how to use a particular piece of Bristlecone Pine in a lamp, the appropriate piece of talus for a base must be chosen. Since the pieces of stone are not processed, but are used as they are found in nature, this can be a time-consuming task.
The piece of talus used as a base must have one important feature. Its irregular surface on the bottom must allow the artist to craft “feet” that will create a stable base for the lamp. Once the bottom is stabilized, the next step is to shape the piece of wood so that it fits against the irregular surface of the top of the rock piece. Time-consuming and difficult, this can take hours. The effort is worth the investment, though, because the wood will appear to simply grow or rise up out of the rock.
Next comes the drilling of the “wire hole” through what is now the base of the lamp. The artist must use care in drilling to preserve the beauty and integrity of this particular section of the root. The wood is then sanded to smooth and soften the surface. Once this is finished, the artist works with the lamp to place shelves made of small pieces of talus in nooks and crannies of the root system. Once these shelves have been fitted and screwed into place, the wood is treated with Danish Oil to bring out the colors and to leave the surface as natural as possible.
A final check and adjustment of the lamp is made. Then the bottom of the lamp is signed and numbered.