Mission City Record
When he was four, Alfred Schwartz trapped his right hand in the gears of an old farm harvester, leaving him with only with a thumb and a pinky.
But he proved that he only needed seven fingers to make masterpieces, namely, his roster of lampshades numbering over 100.
Even his modest lampshades have intricate, handmade fringes. The more elaborate ones – like the large crystal-fringed lamp on his bedroom dresser – could sell for about $1,200.
At least two dozen of them sit in his home, at St. Andrews Co-op housing in Mission, a low-income community with 90 units. The front desk says there is likely a lampshade made by Alfred in each unit.
He sits blanketed in his recliner, surrounded by lampshades of every size. Ever since the Alzheimer started setting in six months ago, he stopped making them.
In his workshop, beer-can airplanes and wood-winged birds hang from the shelves, products of his past craftsmanship. His last lampshade is a modest black and gold and is unfinished. His wife Shirley says it will likely stay unfinished.
Years ago, Alfred used to watch his neighbour, Clara, make lampshades when he lived in Slesse Park in Chilliwack. She drove around in a loud red Jeep and always wore a mini-skirt.
Clara and Alfred became political protestors, starting with the time they had trouble with the municipal government on their property. She had the mind for activism. But she needed Alfred to be the voice.
Alfred remembers when a British-accented municipality man in a three-piece suit threatened that he could “Burn down his house if he wanted to.” Alfred promptly chased him off with a baseball bat and a can of pepper spray.
There was a lot of talk going on, since Alfred came home late from political work some nights in the red Jeep. Many women felt safe around Alfred, according to Shirley. But she never had to worry, because she knew Clara and they both shared the same philosophy on healthy, opposite-sex friendships.
Clara died of cancer around 2001. Her picture hangs in the workshop, where old un-shaded lamps cluster on the top shelves, effigies of what used to make light.
Alfred and Shirley are Christians now, and they practice charity where they can. They’ll often buy the order for the strangers behind them in the Tim Hortons line. Once, a friend of theirs needed compression stockings and they anonymously sent them $100 for the cause. Then, of course, there are the lampshades.
He is often asked, “Why don’t you sell ‘em?”
Shirley says that you simply can’t pay for this work.