John Angel, sketchbook in hand & wearing his signature hat

In Memoriam: John Angel, Jr.: It is with great sadness that I report the death of lighting designer Willard “John” Angel, Jr., who died unexpectedly on June 6 at age 64. An avid bicyclist, John had been riding 20+ miles regularly. Sadly, he had gotten a clean bill of health from his physician just a week or so prior to his collapse. I spoke with his widow, Eloise “Teta” Angel, about the man we both remember as kind, gentle, and talented with an eagerness to share his gifts with others. The owner of Angel Design for the past 35 years, John was still actively working on lamp designs for his clients. His lamps graced the lines of Legacy Lighting, StyleCraft, Berman Industries, and Cheyenne among others. After earning both a bachelor’s degree in art education and a master’s in fine arts, he began his career teaching art before switching gears to design full-time, a vocation he loved passionately. He also provided a scholarship for sculpture to his alma mater’s School of Art at East Carolina University. “He was very versatile as a designer and was adept at designing around whatever the manufacturer already had on-hand so that they didn’t have to spend a lot on tooling costs,” Teta says. “He always got excited when working with a new company and loved to be hands-on with all of his designs, preferring to work on the factory floor with the employees. He did all of his designs by hand and turned those sketches into working prints for the model makers,” she recalls, adding John was very particular about the fine details. I remember meeting John at a High Point Market not that long ago and sure enough, he unrolled pages of sketches of lamp designs that he’d been working on. We discussed collaborating on a story where John would show, step by step, how a lamp design morphed from the initial sketch to the final product. According to Teta, John has a passion for building model airplanes in his youth and had worked at a sign company while a teenager. Both experiences most likely contributed to his career choice. “John never met a stranger and was very honorable in his business dealings,” Teta says. “He loved to travel the U.S. and abroad and got inspiration from most everything we saw.” When vacationing in Montana, Teta spied a decorative item in a shop that was made of cedar fence posts from a farmyard in the 1920s. Intrigued to learn more, they visited the local artist at his studio. “He’d see a curvature in a wrought iron fence and be inspired,” Teta remembers. “He was always looking for shape and movement in everything around him.” A trip to Yellowstone Park, where a buffalo came up to their car window (a moment Teta captured in a photograph) became the basis of a lamp series. Teta’s hobby of photography often sparked a kernel of an idea for a lamp. “Buffalo, bears, birds, moose – they all became motifs for his designs at some point,” she recalls. Although he was comfortable working on a computer, John preferred sketching designs out by hand. “He loved his pencils and the very art of sketching. He liked to sit down with someone and sketch out design possibilities while they were talking. He thought the computer design had more hard edges to it than the pencil did,” Teta notes. A few days after the funeral, one of their sons discovered this message John had typed on his computer back in January. It read:  “This story is not over. It never ceases to amaze and astonish me when I realize that God has heard my every prayer in my whole life. He has answered in His own time and His own way each and every one. I just can’t wait to see what else He has in store. What a truly blessed life I have.” It was signed “W. John Angel, Jr. 1947-2011.” Adds Teta, “John just really cared about people and helping them. I am I am so thankful he was happy to the end in doing what he loved most: design.”