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Canning Do

State of the Arts


Published July 7, 2010 at 9:08 a.m.

A Ball jar light
  • A Ball jar light

Steve Conant and crew at Burlington’s Conant Metal & Light have long refurbished and repurposed old stuff to create unique lighting fixtures. And — never mind the brass and other metals — the list of that “stuff” includes “insulators, antique flashlights, paint cans, fire engine lights, drink shakers, and soda and wine bottles,” he rattles off. While the unusual results have won over many a customer, the popularity of a recent model has taken everyone by surprise: Ball jars. Yes, the classic glass jars used for canning since the Ball Corporation began manufacturing them in the late 19th century. Also called Mason jars after their inventor, the jars are still being made and are de rigueur among home canners. The vintage ones are collectible.

And now, “restaurants across the country are wanting the Ball jar lights,” says Conant, who, after creating lighting for the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, got a write-up in Interior Design magazine. That brought on a spate of inquiries from similarly oriented restaurateurs that “are striving to depict some level of authenticity,” Conant suggests. The Farmhouse, which recently opened in the former McDonald’s on Bank Street, hews to an “eat local” sensibility. The image of a canning jar “is not high-brow. It’s common man. It’s iconic,” Conant adds. And this resonates, apparently, with people who have never canned a jar of fruit in their lives.

The lamps are simple: jars with the bottoms cut off and a lightbulb and wiring inserted through a metal screw-on top. In the Farmhouse, 10 such lights are suspended in a row, providing both illumination and a homey vibe.

Conant says he’s “excited to get back into manufacturing.” There’s just one problem: The company is running out of jars. And that’s why it’s come up with a challenge with a twofold mission. For every jar people bring into the store before the end of the month, the shop will give one dollar to the Vermont Foodbank and enter the donors into a raffle for store discounts. “We’re hoping for 1000 canning jars and $1000 to the foodbank by July 31,” Conant says.

“If there’s a take-home message in this,” he notes, “it’s that the national farm-to-table movement has residual effects: Local manufacturers benefit, too, not just farmers.”

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