Southampton lighting designers Art Donovan and Leslie Tarbell Donovan, of Donovan Designs, are celebrating their 25th anniversary of producing unique and creative illuminations this year with a new line of lamp designs.
Their anniversary collection, called Summer Golden, looks back at the Donovans’ two and a half decades in business and their original influences, with designs based on Art’s very first works, which were featured in the Whitney Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Art and Leslie each had good jobs in New York City when they decided to take a risk and embark on a new venture together. He was a successful graphic/package designer and she worked in couture fashion on Madison Avenue and 57th Street, but they packed it all in and dove headfirst into lighting design without ever looking back.
“Lighting design is a rich and creative vehicle, as it hit all the right buttons for us and encompassed the disciplines we had used in our previous careers—graphic design, fashion, illustration and painting,” Art says of the change.
Collaborating as husband and wife, they debuted their lighting firm, Donovan Design, in September of 1990 and New York magazine immediately endorsed them among their “Best Bets.” The Donovans had hung their hats on an Art Deco-influenced style rendered with a contemporary attitude and clean design.
Art would design and handcraft each lamp himself to offer made-to-order lighting, which was not then available at retail. While it was ambitious, time-consuming and labor intensive, creating one of a kind lamps was the only way their small, boutique company could compete in a market of off-the-shelf major manufacturers. The design flexibility and personal customer service proved to be major factors in the success of the company.
Architects and decorators immediately welcomed the Donovans while they exhibited at shows in Chicago, Miami and New York. And as the demand grew, so did the collection. Eventually, the Donovans would need a larger, more spacious studio, and in 1993, they moved both their residence and studio to a restored farmhouse just outside Southampton Village.
In the years following that move, Art grew restless with the great proliferation of Deco, now known as “Mid Century” design, after seeing it dominate home furnishings and shelter magazines throughout the 2000s. Then, in 2007, his attention turned whole-heartedly to the then little known but growing steampunk aesthetic—a combination of Victorian and futuristic/scientific design—and Art put everything on hold to promote the genre.
In a few short years, and many Steampunk designs later, Art is recognized as a leading designer and authority of the genre, having written three well-received books on the topic and curating the first three major, international museum exhibitions of the style. First at the Hampton Antique Galleries in Bridgehampton, then with his World’s First Museum Exhibition of Steampunk Devices & Contraptions Extraordinaire at the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford in England. Finally, in 2014, Art supervised, co-curated and exhibited in The Art of Victorian Futurism at South Korea’s National Art Center in Seoul.
Now, in 2015, the Donovans’ Summer Golden 25th anniversary collection is the culmination of everything that has come before. Each lamp has a warm, golden finish Art hand-applies to the brass components. This rich color can be observed on fine scientific instruments of the 19th century, much like the lovely patina that develops on varnished brass pieces of vintage optical and astronomical instruments. Named by Leslie, the lams harken back to Art’s earliest designs, while reflecting his beloved steampunk influence, Deco and a balanced beauty that only comes from 25 years of hard work.
To this day, Art signs each design that comes out of his studio, and Leslie names them.