November 2013 Archways

Passing the Light of Knowledge

Images from Lantern Night 2013

Photography by Roy Groething

Meet the Lantern Makers

Just as Lantern Night symbolizes the light of knowledge being passed from one class to the next, the manufacture of our beloved lanterns is also part of a 60-year tradition upheld by generations of the Schenk family of Parkesburg, Pa.

It all started in the 1950s when Elizabeth Schenk Webb ’59 returned home for Christmas break with a broken lantern. Her father, Gustave A. Schenk, a tool engineer, fixed the broken seam and sent his daughter back to school with a proper lantern. On her next trip home, Webb brought a large box containing four additional lanterns needing repair. Once again, her father worked his magic and sent the beloved lanterns back to eagerly waiting Mawrters.

As the story goes, a Bryn Mawr administrator contacted Gustave Schenk some time later to discuss the lantern’s redesign and manufacture. The Schenk family has been making our one-of-a-kind lanterns ever since. When Gustave Schenk died, the job was handed down to Elizabeth’s brother Richard, the current proprietor of the family’s metal fabricating company. Along with his sons Eric and Kurt and employee Blain, Richard handcrafts every lantern.

The new “Schenk” lantern retained much of the style of its predecessor but went from a four-piece construction to two to minimize the chance of breakage. The Schenks start the work in January, when they order parts they are unable to make themselves, such as the cup and candle, brass barrel and chain, and glass panels—the latter come from a company in Kokomo, Ind., that the Schenks have used since the 1970s. At the end of January, they start to blank out and form the metal sheets that make up the lanterns’ sides—with their unique owl cutouts—and roofs. Next, the team hand-folds each body and roof and solders them into one piece. Final assembly starts in August, when the glass is inserted and the brass barrels and chains are attached. Once constructed, they get a coat of black paint.

It takes the team the better part of a year to make the lanterns in time for Lantern Night. This year, the Schenks made 400 reds and 10 purples for the class of 2017 and McBrides—the biggest order yet.

 

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