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This Gilbert Watrous desk lamp was designed for MoMA's 1951 Low Cost Lighting Competition.  (The contest was purportedly inspired by designer Marcel Breuer’s despairing remark that he could not find a well-designed modern lamp.  It drew over 3,000 entries.)  A tripod-based floor lamp version, with the same magnetized steel-ball element that allows for secure multi-positioning, was selected as the overall winner.  HEIFETZ, who co-sponsored the competition, subsequently put a number of variations into production, including this table model.  The width can be adjusted from 23" to 33" and the height from 15" to 30".  The base measures 6" in diameter.

GILBERT WATROUS was born in Tulare, California, in 1919.  He attended the Illinois Institute of Design in Chicago, graduating in 1951.  Watrous achieved acclaim that year when one of his lighting designs was given a “Good Design” award as an intriguing low-cost light fixture by MoMA.  The prize-winning lamp, “Model No. F-1-W Floor Light,” featured a pivot comprised of a magnetized steel ball residing comfortably inside a concave socket.  HEIFETZ, the manufacturer, referred to the desk version simply as “table light” in its materials.  The pithy description of the original pre-production version: “…long arm balances on a magnetic ball perched on a singular rod mounted in walnut.”  Watrous filed patents for his lighting, a table, and structural systems for furniture—the latter in collaboration with Frederic A. Roberton.

Soon after graduation, Watrous relocated to San Diego and opened a retail store on Prospect Street in downtown La Jolla selling folk art and Mexican furnishings.  Despite the success of his lighting designs, he chose to channel his interest in contemporary design through his store’s inventory, rather than continuing on as a designer.  Watrous would become a specialist in Mexican handicrafts and known regionally for his efforts to sell them in his local storefront.

HEIFETZ MANUFACTURING was based in Connecticut and operated out of a Manhattan showroom that opened in the late 1940s.  Its focus was on modern decorative objects and lighting.  The company is best known for briefly producing the ten lamps that won a 1950 lighting competition that it co-sponsored with MoMA.  These lamps are now very well-known (especially the ones designed by Gilbert Watrous) and highly sought after.

HEIFETZ also produced ceramic pieces—bookends, ashtrays, and jewelry boxes–and other decorative items for the home; a very collectible line of plastic hanging light fixtures known as 'Rotaflex'; and many carved wooden lamps, featuring mostly modern biomorphic shapes, sculpted by founder Yasha Heifetz himself in his home studio.

Design Year – 1950

Country of Origin – USA

Designer – GILBERT WATROUS (1919-1991)


Attribution – WELL-KNOWN


Condition – VERY GOOD (no defects; may show slight traces of use)

Additional Condition Details – minor surface scratches on the fulcrum from adjusting the arm within the ball.


Height (in.) – 30.0

Diameter (in.) – 6.0

Width (in.) – 33.0

Quantity Available – 1