Lights in the Storm

How one Etowah collector keeps the home fires burning
Laura Hyman and her multi-generational hurricane-lamp collection.
Photo by Jack Robert

There is a glow and inner steadfastness about Laura Hyman. She and her musician husband, Myron, retired here from Venice Beach, Calif., to be nearer their grandchildren. The Hymans live in Etowah, in a new neighborhood with porches, rolling hills, trees, and well-kept yards — just the kind of place she was looking for as they continue their life’s journey, and especially after turning their lives around: She reveals that each of them lost about 100 pounds through adopting a healthier lifestyle.

The home is open and airy. On the mantel are two large images of Buddha, and throughout the great room are carefully selected mementos: family photos, guitars, and hurricane lamps — lots of hurricane lamps. 

Hurricane lamps of many vintages and hues line the Hyman shelves. Also called chimney lamps and storm lanterns, the style can be traced back to the 1700s.
Photo by Jack Robert

Invented in the late 1700s and still made today, in various forms, hurricane lamps are also called chimney lamps and storm lanterns. The hallmark look is plain, somewhat industrial, though the style has varied widely over the years, from the utilitarian hurricane lamps used on ships to ornate home versions with painted and carved shades. In all of them, though, the telling detail is the tall glass globe, meant to protect a burning wick from high winds.

On this day, most of Laura’s lamps are sitting on Myron’s mother’s old upright piano. She has just spent about three hours cleaning and arranging them just so; the bigger ones in the back, the smaller ones in the front. More sit on the mantel, and yet more are scattered about.

She estimates she has between 30 and 40 hurricane lamps in her collection, which once belonged to her own mother. None contain oil. The wicks are white, unburnt. Although not needed for practical use — especially in the mountains — they stand in legion as a kind of protective metaphor.

Photo by Jack Robert

What is the value — monetarily and personally — of this hurricane lamp collection?

The monetary value I have estimated at about $1,100. Personally, the value is deeply rooted in loving memories of my mom.

They suggest the seafaring life, but also the safety of home …

This collection represents a time when Mom [and her husband] stopped traveling the Intracoastal Waterway [in Florida] on their sailboat and moved back home to be close to family again.

Photo by Jack Robert

Where did the lamps come from?

This collection represents a time when Mom [and her husband] stopped traveling the Intracoastal Waterway [in Florida] on their sailboat and moved back home to be close to family again.

[Myron and I] are from Venice Beach; I lived in Marina Del Rey with my mom, stepdad, and brother growing up. So the lamps are from Northern and Southern California, and some from when we traveled to the East Coast.

Do you have a favorite lamp?

I love the colored ones.

Photo by Jack Robert

You’ve mentioned their symbolism …

These lamps symbolize to me now that we [Mom and I] found joy and a shining, protective light even in the darkest moments.

Moving here was a sea change of sorts …

I home-cared Myron’s mom for four years, and when she passed, my mom became ill, and I cared for her until she passed. We moved into an over-55 community in Palm Springs, California, because Myron had retired from the movie industry. But our health wasn’t good, and we finally decided to take care of ourselves for a change. We started a nutrition system, and in the first year we had both released over 100 lbs. each. … We definitely came to the [North Carolina] mountains to enjoy our healthy lifestyle. We love the people and the music and being able to have fresh food from all the farms here. 

This specimen has a simple design and a memorable palette.
Photo by Jack Robert

What will eventually become of the lamps?

I find great joy in gifting them to loved ones. I have three daughters and five grandchildren who loved their Nana, and I will make sure they all will get one. This is my way of sharing the light that I finally got to see in my mom’s eyes.

Why don’t you use them?

I guess I used to look at them as my mom’s collection … [but lately] I’ve been realizing that they are now mine — and I intend to start using some of them, and can reflect on the great memories of helping her collect them.

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