The garage known as my studio was built in 1911 by a Swedish lumber baron. The sturdy framing and knob and tube electrical wiring were covered with beautiful fir panels. . . until recently when portions were removed to make way for shear walls. The way of California. When my electricans were updating the wiring I had them salvage the knob and tube remnants. I love the feel of the ceramic and the sound of the pieces knocking together. The white pieces remind me of bone. I also wonder about their history. Who used the electricity they enabled for the past 104 years? What things happened with those lights and that power? Did Jerry Garcia ring the doorbell when he arrived to buy his first banjo from Jon and Deirdre Lundberg? I can’t just let my electrician walk out the door with those beautiful objects. They are perfect for assemblages. The bone white seems to belong with dried opium poppies and erasers, string, Indian elephant trinkets, legos, sunflower seeds, copper, boardwalk tickets and other stuff.
The ceramic knobs are the type that consist of two pieces with a nail running through the middle. They were nailed directly into the wall studs or floor joists. Electrical wires were wrapped around the knob, which securely anchored them. The knobs separated the wire from potentially combustible framework. Because they were suspended in air, they could dissipate heat well. They also facilitated changes in direction and ensured that wires were not subject to excessive tension. The ceramic tubes were inserted into holes bored in wall studs or floor joists, and the wires were directed through them. This kept the wires from coming into contact with the wood framing and from being compressed by the wood as the house settled. There is a great deal of integrity to this old method of wiring. As my electrician pointed out, knob and tube wiring is in some ways superior to today's wiring, (except for some flaws such as lack of a ground conductor). And most noticeably, today's wiring won't offer up any timeless ceramic when it is replaced a century from now.