The Pajama Factory Windows

As a photographer, I spend a lot of time looking at different types of light and shadows, so when I found the Pajama Factory in Williamsport, PA, I was attracted to the exceptional quality of the light afforded by the factory’s large windows.

What I didn’t know was how carefully engineered a modern factory of this era was. Manufacturing was coming into full swing with modern methods on a scale that had never been seen before. Where old factories were smaller, darker and less pleasant for workers, factory owners were learning that productivity could be improved significantly by designing workspaces that employed what would one day become known as ergonomics, a term not coined until 1949, a full thirty years after the Pajama Factory was completed.

An important consideration in designing a large work area is, of course, that sufficient light be made available to workers. Electric light was a fairly new thing, but it was expensive and inefficient for the kinds of spaces that needed to be illuminated. Architects found that they could efficiently light large spaces through the use of carefully-engineered window systems. The engineers needed to add as much light as possible and of course, more windows mean more light.

A typical factory built in the late Nineteenth Century was made of brick and timber, with wood-framed windows that were of course much smaller and less-efficient than they now needed to maximize the usefulness of the spaces they wanted.

Around the turn of the Twentieth Century, architects started designing steel framed factory structures with steel-framed windows that would allow for vast, multistory buildings, such as the 300,000 or so square feet of the Pajama Factory. They designed their buildings to have greater and greater percentages of their outer surface covered with windows and these new techniques allowed them to reach better than eighty percent coverage with glass. This required new types of framing for the windows, such as the “Detroit Fenestra” designs that the Pajama Factory has so many of. These were incredibly strong, far stronger than could be made of wood, and far easier to maintain. Double-glazed windows were an option, but often decided against because the cost of heating the factories was said to be “practically nil.” (Sadly, this is no longer true…)

So by the time the newer buildings of the Pajama Factory were built in the years before and just after World War I, architects could design a building as large as they could afford, with glass covering nearly all of the outside. The problem was, if they used regular flat window glass, most of the light would fall right near the window sills, blinding and baking the workers situated there, while the workers towards the center were left in relative darkness. Lighting engineers of the day set about to tackle this problem. Frosted or ground glass, where the shiny surface was sandblasted to make it translucent, simply reduced the amount of light that passed through. This helped near the windows, but the centers of the rooms on the factory floor were still in shadow. It became clear that the answer to the problem was textured glass of some sort. Glass with patterns of raised bumps were tried. They were an improvement, but not good enough. “Maze glass” had a raised pattern molded to the surface and this had excellent dispersion qualities, but not enough reach towards the center of the halls.

The highest efficiency was found using a type known as “prism dispersion” glass. This type is molded to have an interior surface of 90º ridges about 1/32nd of an inch wide, running parallel across the glass’ surface. These “prisms” caught and redirected the light towards the center of the room, creating a pleasant and efficient environment in the center of a building even sixty feet wide. (A bit more space could be added as a center hallway area, as that didn’t need to be as well-lit.)

Factories could now be built as large as they could be lit. This led to the type of structures exemplified by the Pajama Factory—long, long buildings with windows situated to the West and East.

Looking at the windows of the factory, you’l notice that this kind of glass was only used on the upper panes in each sash. There were a few reasons for this decision: one factor was cost—prism dispersion glass was far more expensive than the smooth kind. It also worked best in the upper part of the room, above the workers and their machines and in combination with white-painted ceilings and columns. Lastly, it was found that the workers actually needed to occasionally glance at a distant object outside, to reduce eye strain. This was balanced against the concern by factory owners that workers, “especially women” would spend too much time staring out the windows rather than working. (This was, after all, 1916 in the example I found and people actually said things like that in public.)

After the windows were in place, the machinery had to be laid out in a manner that didn’t interfere with the light dispersion. Long rows of work area were arranged almost perpendicular to the line of windows so the light could efficiently flow. Ideally, workers would not be facing the windows directly, as this caused undue eye strain, as well as distraction. The same publication noted that this technique had been employed for many years in keeping horses in stables, again stated with no implied irony.

It’s interesting to learn how and why these buildings were made the way they were and what a state-of-the-art facility it was. It’s exactly these sorts of details that make the building so appealing for artists and craftsmen even today, so much more so than even a new building.

Almost a hundred years later, many of the original prism dispersion windows remain, though a few have been lost to the ravages of time. Where practical, broken panes have been replaced with matching vintage panes sourced from salvage dealers.

The next time you visit the Pajama Factory, take a look at the windows and enjoy our exceptional light.

The Garden at The Pajama Factory

Today was a beautiful Fall day at The Pajama Factory.
The day held clear, blue skies with warm sun, but the unmistakable hint of Autumn. I took the opportunity to spend some time in the courtyard, exploring the garden with Koshka, the little black cat. Koshka spends most of her time inside, roaming the halls and visiting the studios and tenants, but likes to come out once in a while to explore and hunt for spiders.

Koshka, the Factory Cat
Koshka, the Factory Cat, inspects the garden.

I took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring myself. While I didn’t find as many spiders, I found lots of cool things to take pictures of.

Not long ago, one section of the garden was filled with yellow flowers, Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) They have since lost their petals, adopting a more somber beauty.

Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) That have lost their petals.

You may have seen these old-looking iron devices here and there throughout the grounds of the factory. While they somewhat resemble a fire hydrant, they’re actually an active part of the factory’s extensive sprinkler system.

Sprinkler Control Valve #5
Sprinkler Control Valve #5

This one caught me off guard—it’s a Chinese Lantern Plant, (Physalis alkekengi,) or, as I knew them when I first encountered them in Japan, a houzuki. In Japan, they are strongly associated with Summer and Fall—they last for months, gradually going from green to orange, before the papery flower’s shell disintegrates, leaving a skeleton of lace, surrounding a cherry-like fruit. The plant traditionally is associated with fertility in Japan, popularly kept by couples hoping to conceive a child, though ironically, the fruit itself has contraceptive properties, along with other medicinal uses.
Several times I went to the Houzuki-Ichi festival at Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo, a festival where vendors sell thousands of the plants, as they have every June 9-10th, since the Edo Period (1603 to 1868).
I didn’t expect to see on growing here in the garden, but Barb pointed it out to me, just as the sun was lighting it up.

Chinese Lantern Plant
Chinese Lantern Plant

This sure looks like a footprint from the kind of boots the astronauts wore on the moon. So how did it get on a rock here on Earth, in our very own courtyard? The obvious answer is that aliens visited the Pajama Factory millions of years ago.
Kidding aside, what the heck is this? A fossil? A sandstone concretion? It’s not carved or cut from the stone.

Rock with a spaceman's footprint?
Rock with a spaceman's footprint?

There’s lots of quartz crystals around, in clusters attached to rocks, as well as loose pieces to be found.

Quartz Crystal on the Ground
Quartz Crystal on the Ground

The old plow.

An old plow
An old plow

I’m not sure what these vines are. I thought they might be zucchini or something, but I haven’t seen any fruit developing. Whatever they are, I do like the way the tiny tendrils spiral as they reach out and climb whatever’s near.

Climbing Vines
Climbing Vines

Finally, a pepper growing near the front gate.

A small pepper
A small pepper


Inside Studio Paper+

Inside Studio Paper+
Inside Studio Paper+

Artist Todd Lim didn’t have to go far to find all the resources he needed to put together a series of prints for an upcoming show at Greenwich Connecticut’s Samuel Owen Gallery.

His new series, a set of prints combining imagery from personal memory and popular culture, are done using a mix of specialized and innovative printing techniques, brought together with the aid of a skilled printer and a ca. 1958 Charles Brand etching press.

No, Lim didn’t have to travel far to find what he needed; it was all just down the hall from his own studio at Studio Paper+ in Williamsport’s Pajama Factory.

Studio Paper+ is the brainchild of artist Chad Andrews. Andrews received his MFA in printmaking at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, so he not only acts as a masterful technician for each project, he’s uniquely qualified to lend a hand creatively, suggesting techniques and processes that the artist can employ to realize their vision.

Master Printer Chad Andrews, working with inks on his glass-topped worktable.
Master Printer Chad Andrews, working with inks on his glass-topped worktable.

Creating a consistent and reproducible result requires that a lot of factors be considered—the ink, for example, gets checked for color and consistency. Andrews pours a bit of the oil-based pigment out onto the long glass-topped table he built for the studio and works it over with spatulas and brayers, checking it not only for color, but for its viscosity, the thickness and opaqueness of the ink. When he’s satisfied that it’s just right, it’s spread out a final time and then the plate, in this case a thin film of polyester known as a pronto plate, is inked up, the color checked a final time by the artist and placed on the print. This method lets Lim build up the image in layers, the thin plate not damaging the paper as it might with a different process, allowing Lim to make each print unique.

The press itself is a massive thing of black-painted iron and shining steel that despite its outward appearance of indestructibility, must be carefully calibrated for each pass of the plate, ink and paper that makes the prints become a thing that collectors will treasure and display. Owning a press like this is certainly not a reasonable likelihood for most people, certainly beyond the prospects of all but the most dedicated of artists. A well-equipped college art department may have one, but access would be likely limited to students and faculty.

At The Pajama Factory, Studio Paper+ has not only this press, but an equally impressive press for making lithographs, as well as a letter press, on which hand-set lead type is laid out and printed.

Todd Lim inspects the print in process.
Todd Lim inspects the print in process.


After each pass through the press, the print is examined
After each pass through the press, the print is examined

Andrews doesn’t want to be a service bureau, merely taking direction and producing prints, he wants each artist to be as involved as possible in the process. Not only that, as a natural teacher, he’ll encourage you to expand your repertoire of skills and techniques, but never pushes. As you tell him your ideas, he’ll often cock his head a certain way and say “You might want to think about…” and proceed to tell you about a technique that may be a year old, or perhaps a few hundred years old.

In the course of writing this article, Andrews asked me if I still had any interest in trying etching.

Etchings have been traditionally made by taking a copper plate about the thickness of a penny and covering it with a thin layer of asphaltum, a thin, tar-like substance. The asphaltum dries to a nearly varnish-like finish and the artist scratches through that with a variety of tools to make the design. When the design is complete, the plate is set in a bath of acid and, where the asphaltum has been removed, the acid bites the design into the copper. The artist will clean the plate and rub ink into these etched lines. The inked plate is then run through the press with a sheet of dampened paper and the ink is beautifully transferred from the plate to the paper.

For over twenty years, I’ve been a fan of etchings. I’ve bought and sold many over the years, from “Old Master” etchings of 17th Century Holland, to the revival the media experienced in the early twentieth century. Often times, the artist or subject of the print would interest me little, it was the process itself, the subtle bite of ink lines on the paper, the faint traces of a mistake that had been (nearly) burnished out, the embossed edge of the platemark on the paper and even the occasional trace of an inky fingerprint of the printer, left as he lifted the corner of the wet sheet off the press bed. It was all these things that drew me in and kept me hooked.

A bit later, I left the studio with a print in hand. No old master etching by any stretch of the imagination, it was merely a test of lines upon the paper, sections of cross-hatching that overlapped in ever-increasing densities until it reached the point where the acid ate away everything, leaving areas of “open bite” that lost their detail to the ink. Still, that was what I was after, a test to see what would happen when I subjected my drawing to the acid and the ink. I was hooked. Some of the lines, combined with subtle shadings left on the plate by previous work done on it, were sublime. I could see that, with a lot more intention, talent and control, there was nothing Rembrandt did 380 years ago that I couldn’t do today. Not by me, perhaps, but by someone… Someone, that is, with access to a press and a good teacher.

If you think you might like to try your hand at printing, be it copper etching, pronto plates, linoleum block, stone lithography, or any number of other processes, stop by Studio Paper+ inside studio Nr. 30 in the Pajama Factory most Friday evenings for the Printmaker’s Forum.

What I’m Listening to… –



A couple of hours ago, I was asked to write up a short piece on the music I’m listening to. Like many of you, my listening tastes range too far and wide for the scope of this article, so I’m going to tell you a little bit about one thin branch of a musical genre that I enjoy a great deal: Jazz.

via What I’m Listening to… – | News, Sports, Jobs, Community Information – Williamsport-Sun Gazette.

Maranon Chocolate

This is pretty cool—my sister Leslie has been working with a group who discovered a thought-to-be-extinct variety of cacao beans growing in Peru. The NYT did a story on it:

DAN PEARSON was working in northern Peru two years ago with his stepson Brian Horsley, supplying gear and food to mining companies, when something caught his eye.

“We were in a hidden mountain valley of the Marañón River and saw some strange trees with football-size pods growing right out of their trunks,” Mr. Pearson said by telephone last week. “I knew nothing about cacao, but I learned that’s what it was.”

It was, he would learn after sending samples of seeds and leaves to the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, one of the rarest, most prized varieties of cacao.

“The DNA of this material is pure Nacional,” said Dr. Lyndel Meinhardt, a scientist with the service. “These are very rare.”

I love this kind of story—part Indiana Jones, part Tom Swift, part… Willy Wonka?
They’re now producing chocolate from these beans: Fortunato No. 4 – “preeminent chocolate during the 1800’s, destroyed by diseases in 1916, rediscovered in Peru and released to world in 2011 – Fortunato No.4 is 100% thought-to-be-extinct Pure Nacional. Even more facinating is that this newly discovered Pure Nacional has 40% white beans – never before discovered, never before tasted and absolutely delicious”
“The chocolate is intense, with a floral aroma and a persistent mellow richness. Its lack of bitterness is remarkable. “ New York Times, January 11, 2011:

Marañón Chocolate

Thought to be extinct since diseases struck Ecuador in 1916, Pure Nacional with 100% purple beans was esteemed for flavors of fruit and rare floral. It commanded a dominant share of the worldwide fine chocolate market before it suddenly vanished–until now.

We found Pure Nacional with 40% and 100% white beans growing in a remote canyon of the Marañón River Valley in Peru. “An unprecedented discovery”, said USDA genetics scientist, Dr. Meinhardt, head of the lab that tested the cacao DNA and confirmed the results.

“In my 30 year chocolate obsession, this is the finest I’ve ever tasted”, said Paul Edward pastry chef and co-founder of Chef Rubber with 25,000 customers worldwide.

We are there during every process pictured below: from planting cacao seeds in our nursery, harvesting, fermenting and drying and making chocolate in Switzerland on the 1879 Longitudinal Conche. From Pure Nacional seeds to Pure Nacional Chocolate, Traceability is Guaranteed.

What’s also cool is that some of the beans in the cacao pods are white, apparently something that doesn’t happen unless the plants are left undisturbed for decades.

Surly Bastard

I suppose some of you know this already, but I’ve been secretly updating a new site, Surly Bastard.

It’s a different sort of site than this one has been over the years, more like a “Tumblr Blog” or “tumblog” or whatever they call those things, where you don’t actually write very much, just slap on pictures and links and pithy quotes or whatever.  Most of what I post is stuff I’m working on, pictures and whatnot, or links to “shit I like”.

Here’s something I posted the other day, a painting I whipped up for the February “First Friday” event here at the Pajama Factory:

I’m pretty happy with how it came out, especially because it’s my first attempt at painting.  It’s four feet by eight feet. On plywood.  People seemed to like it well enough.

Oh, if you read blogs though a feed reader, here’s the feed link for Surly Bastard.


Spent the morning raking leaves.  Raking, as in, dragging a rake across the lawn, coaxing the leaves to the street, rather than hooking up the leaf blower and doing it the modern way.

Cash For Hot Tubs (New Client)

Just did a nice quick site today:

Cash for Hot Tubs!

Ready to trade up that old tub?
Tired of that old tub cluttering up your yard? Why not turn it into a nice little pile of cash, just in time for Christmas?
Use the form below to get in touch and we’ll get back to you ASAP!

[From Cash For Hot Tubs!!]

Really a very simple site, but the client needed it up and running with a custom feedback form for a print ad campaign by tomorrow.

Surprisingly, we had a real customer use the form within minutes of going live, too!

Bellevue Cottage

Say hello to Bellevue Cottage. Bellevue Cottage is a beautiful mountaintop bed and breakfast not far from Williamsport, with absolutely spectacular views. Barb and I went up there last weekend to shoot some photos and get a start on the website for the cottage. Anna Alford is the owner and heart behind the place. She grew up on the mountain and her love of the place is obvious—it’s a beautiful hundred-year-old building that has been lovingly cared for.

We were lucky to come on a day as spectacular as we did. One thing I really missed when I was living in Japan was the amazing Fall foliage that we get here in the Northeast. Sure, you can go to Nikko and see leaves, but I never saw anything that could compare with the colors of Pennsylvania.

Go take a look around Anna’s new site.

Welcome to Bellevue Cottage

After several years of planning and work Bellevue Cottage is finally ready for you to come and visit. Watch this site for news about upcoming events. I look forward to welcoming you to my home soon. In the meantime you can come for a virtual visit via this web site. Anna Alford

[From Bellevue Mountaintop Cottage]