Mitchell Bobrick / LAMA


Lot 104, Mitchell Bobrick Floor lamp by Controlight

Today is Mitchell's birthday so it seems like a good day to post about him.

Mitchell Bobrick (November 10, 1921 - February 1979) was born in Colorado and moved to California in 1941. With his degree in aeronautical engineering from Denver University, he went to work for aerospace manufacturer Lockheed in Los Angeles. Like many other optimistic designers from that era, post-war he began his own company to make life better through design. He produced furniture and lighting through his company, Controlight. 

His lighting designs focused on humble materials being used in dynamic new ways to solve problems he saw with traditional lighting. Iron, fiberglass, wood and ceramic were combined to create lamps focused on indirect and diffused light. The claim was that the fiberglass discs have an 80% reflection factor. He went on to say the lamps were "scientifically designed lighting instruments that…are new concepts based on an old idea . . . namely to achieve a large area low brightness lighting source whose characteristics would be such that high intensities of evenly diffused light could be provided without excessive background contrast or glare”.

He chose ceramic in many of his lamps to avoid what he saw as a common heating issue. According to Mitchell, the ceramic housing stays cooler than metal and remains safe to touch after hours of use. Lamp housings were kiln fired clay available in 5 hand finish glazes; avocado green, emerald green, chartreuse, scarlet red and matte black. There was often a metal grid inserted into the cone to diffuse the bright bare bulb. Lore has it that when Controlight began Mitchell and his brother Richard assembled the lamps themselves in Mitchell’s garage in Los Angeles. 

A catalogue was launched in 1951 showing over 40 different models of lamps. Distribution happened through retailers nationwide, including General Lighting’s showroom called Argus-1633 and through department stores such as May Co. Controlight ads were also found in magazines such as Arts & Architecture. 

General Lighting / Argus-1633 ad

I haven't seen many period photos with a Controlight but a floor lamp did make it into a house by Richard Neutra, the Kramer House (1953). 

Photo: Julius Shulman photography © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

In addition to the models utilizing ceramic cones with reflecting fiberglass discs, there was a less common variation incorporating thin white fiberglass elliptical shades that were introduced in 1953. 

The dual-dome shades were used to remove sharp brightness while producing a high degree of diffused light. Removable metal louvers on the bottom allow for easy bulb access and also produce two beams of light that shine down. 

This is another model using the same thin hard fiberglass shell but instead of sealed design, the shades rotate. However the bulb is still hidden away.

In general, very few Controlights were produced and considering how uncommon these dual-dome models without ceramics cones are today, production was surely limited. This could be do to the fact that the company would soon be out of business. Like many small design-related companies that began post-war, the business only lasted a few years and Controlight went bankrupt in 1954.

Although Controlight was over, Mitchell’s interest in lighting design continued. He worked on projects for large companies such as Lightolier and Sunbeam as a consultant under a new company he called  Industrial Designers Group. Then in 1960 he established Mitchell Bobrick Inc. At one point the firm had a staff of 21, including five graphic designers, five industrial designers, and five model makers and machinists. Among the firm's clients were Caro-lite Inc., Litton Industries, Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, and Nautilus Industries. Bobrick has over 40 patents for advances in fluorescent and incandescent lighting in addition to a variety of other non-lighting devices and even designed a lawnmower protype. 

Architectural lighting units made of extruded aluminum with duranodic finishes. Designed for use with  miniature high intensity quartz lamps to provide accent lighting by  Mitchell Bobrick, Inc. The client was Marvin Manufacturing Corporation. 
Source: Industrial Design, 1966

This actually isn’t the first Controlight I’ve consigned with LAMA. 

In 2007 LAMA held an auction focused on California Art & Design. It was curated by two of my mentors, Gerard O'brien from Reform Gallery and LAMA founder Peter Loughrey. The lamp did well and landed in the perfect collection. 

It was purchased by LACMA and was part of the incredible 2011 exhibition, LACMA California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way

Source: LACMA