A Copper Alliance Member
Copper in the Arts
Ginny Ruffer: Finding Art in the Everyday
Ruffner cut her teeth at the University of Georgia in the '70s, where she earned her MFA in painting. What she had around her eventually developed into her particular brand of colorful glass and lamp design art, shaping her into the sharp-witted woman with wild curls in her hair and an army of student assistants who wish to see the world through her eyes. Free to embrace individual projects during her schooling, she began painting on glass and layering it to form 2-D and 3-D pieces. The lamp builder, sculptor and pop-up book author was born.
As a 39-year old with an established career in the art world, Ruffner was nearly fatally injured in a car accident in 1991. Though doctors believed she would never walk or talk again, she says she was determined to recover her speech so that she could tell them to respectfully “drop dead” for that discouraging diagnosis. Indeed today she is working and she admits to doing a fair amount of her work over the telephone, and is famous not only for her artistic vision but for her resilience.
She is currently working on a combination of blown glass and fabricated bronze to create massive sculptures evocative of DNA. Her process of design involves practical considerations of physics, so her sculptures are hollow. To achieve this she eshews lost-wax casting for individual fabrication, creating the desired shapes based on cuts, folds and welding. “If you imagine how you can cut a sheet of paper and glue it to make a sculptural object,” she explains, “well that’s how we approach a sheet of bronze to create a sculpture for me.”
s she looks to the future, Ruffner hopes to continue her pop-up books—what she calls “literary sculpture,” and attend the premiere of a documentary about the sculptor’s life at the Seattle International Film Festival in June, entitled Ginny Ruffner: A Not-So-Still Life. True to the form she has made for her life, Ruffner is always eager to find art in the seemingly non-artistic parts of life. “Something that I’ve never done before, that’s what I want to make," she says. "I just don’t know what it is yet!”
Sue Runyon Designs: Handcrafted Jewelry Inspired by Nature
“At first, I just made designs for myself, but when my pieces started selling right off my neck, a business was born!” recalls Runyon.
She described her first work with copper as “one of those happy accidents.” To branch out from use of manufactured sterling silver and 14k gold-filled jewelry findings normally associated with pearls and gemstones, Runyon decided to make ear wires and clasps with copper wire. She found copper easy to manipulate. Its warm, rosy glow lent itself to natural pairing with substances like red coral for bracelets, pink pearls as in her Copper Buds necklace or amethyst for a rich, sophisticated look. Soon, her copper and amazonite earrings became her most popular design and she worked on combinations such as copper, 14k gold-filled and sterling silver blended to create a tricolor gold look for an affordable price.
Being able to go into a hardware store and buy various gauges of copper wire in the electrical or picture hanging departments has been conducive to her construction productivity. Since most of her work with wire entails wrapping with some cutting, bending, hammering and filing involved, copper is the perfect metal for her trial and error methods. The unique dragonfly hairpin took about 20 meters of copper wire and a full day to create. She recently purchased an anvil and ring mandrel and uses a tumbler for polishing and hardening the pieces.
“I love making copper earrings," says Runyon. "They give me a chance to play with ideas and techniques on a small scale. I frequently wake up from a dream about a new design, sketch it and try it with earrings. Many of the designs are made using a wire jig pegboard. I am also getting comments from customers with sensitive skin that the copper earrings are more comfortable for them to wear."
Meet Metalsmith Henry Litchfield
Henry Litchfield’s metalsmith career is a lot like one of his custom-fit copper bracelet cuffs: After following a few different job paths, this one fits him perfectly. “I always had a longtime interest in art,” says Litchfield. “I had really wanted to be a painter or sculptor.”
But, out of high school, Litchfield first went to aviation school and received his certificate to work as an aircraft mechanic. “But I didn’t like working in a hangar,” he says.
He then wore the sales hat, selling copy machines, computers and printing equipment door-to-door and climbing the corporate ladder as a sales manager for a few major companies from the 1960s to the 1980s. “But I didn’t like that much either,” he admits.
Litchfield decided to finally dabble in his artistic dream and designed a small line of metal jewelry. In 1990, he went full time selling the jewelry to galleries in the Midwest and at art fairs and shows held everywhere from his home base in Peoria, Il., to California.
He admits he’s not a jeweler – more of a metalworker or blacksmith – and originally chose jewelry as an artistic medium because paintings or sculptures would have required a bigger vehicle than his Honda Accord when traveling to art shows. “I guess I still think very logistically or practically,” he says.
Litchfield, 70, however, says he’s always had a real appreciation for copper as a metal and its history in Native American weaponry and utensils. “It’s such an integral part of our society now,” he adds. “Copper is more important, industrially, than gold, which is used more for ornamentation. Plus copper is easy to work with. It’s malleable and can be formed into a variety of shapes, and when you alloy it with tin or zinc, then it becomes bronze or brass so that adds to the ‘machinability’ or ductility of it.”
“Most of my work is done on an old anvil with a ball peen hammer,” he explains. “I twist the metal then hammer it into shape.”
He firmly believes in the health benefits of his copper bracelets, wearing one on each of his wrists – and a copper ring on his finger. Folklore says, since the human body has 24 elements, one of them being copper, if the body is lacking one of those elements, wearing copper would bring one’s system back into balance. “Arthritis kept me from bending my finger before, and now I can bend it,” says Litchfield, “so I know it works.”
Although Litchfield has added a few star-moon earring designs, earrings out of old coins, pendants and key hooks, he says the bracelets are the breadwinners. “They’re classic and simple, like the sign I hang up at shows that says ‘Vanilla Bracelets.’ Like vanilla ice cream, they go with anything,” he says with a laugh. “So much jewelry is on the gaudy side now. It’s like wearing a toaster on your wrist, which may be stylish now, but not tomorrow. People are still wearing my bracelets after 20 years or so.”
Copper in the Arts: NEWS
Tiffany Exhibit Makes The Only U.S. Stop in Richmond - June 09, 2010
The only U.S. stop for “Tiffany: Color and Light,” this exhibition.includes more than 170 works by Louis Comfort Tiffany – the master of American glass – and his studio. Handblown glass objects, leaded-glass windows, lamps, and other decorative items from Tiffany’s studios are featured along with oil paintings, watercolors, and mosaics. Fourteen objects come from VMFA’s internationally renowned collection formed by Sydney and Frances Lewis.
“Our own collection of Tiffany treasures has earned the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts the distinction of being the exclusive U.S. venue for the works of this genius of American Decorative arts,” says Director Alex Nyerges. “This international master of American glass achieves original and spectacular effects in his handblown vessels, leaded-glass windows, lamps, and other decorative objects.”
Born in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany & Company in New York City. A young man of means, Louis studied art in New York and in Paris before he traveled in Europe from 1865 to 1869. He visited Europe again and traveled in North Africa in 1870-71 while developing his skills as an artist. He especially appreciated the vividly colored glass mosaics and other artworks he saw in Egypt, Africa, and elsewhere.
After returning to the United States, Tiffany continued to work as an artist, but gradually his interest turned to glass design and production. He appreciated the colors, forms, textures and light in medieval leaded-glass windows he had seen in European churches. However, there was little use of glass in contemporary Western art, and Tiffany developed the materials he used. He returned repeatedly to the French capital and in 1894 began exhibiting his glass with the Parisian art dealer Siegfried Bing. At the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, Tiffany’s booth featured the spectacular punchbowl, which is in VMFA’s collection, and he was acknowledged as the foremost American designer.
Tiffany established the Tiffany Glass Company, which became Tiffany Studios in 1900. In 1894, he patented his Favrile glass, adapting the Latin word for “handmade” as the name of his handblown glass.
At one point, Tiffany Studios employed more than 300 artisans, some of them women, to bring Tiffany’s designs and ideas to life.
The celebrated creations of Tiffany’s various companies include lamps with colorful leaded-glass shades that helped to diffuse the new electric light. Many of the shades were made of glass left over from the creation of leaded-glass windows and often featured floral designs in glass and jewels.
VMFA objects featured in the exhibition include the “Cobweb Lamp” designed by Clara Driscoll in 1902. The lamp features leaded glass, bronze, and glass mosaics. Intricate patterns define the cobwebs on the lamp’s multicolored leaded-glass shade.
Among works in the exhibition are more than 20 leaded-glass windows drawn from major museums and private collections throughout the world. The “Magnolia” window was designed in 1900 by Agnes Northrop for the Paris World’s Fair that year. This window is now in the permanent collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“The Angel of the Resurrection” window, designed by Frederick Wilson in 1904-5, was installed at the American Presbyterian Church in Montreal. It joined the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2008 and is one of nine windows from Montreal on display for the first time in the United States.
A “Mounted Vase with Peacock-Feather Decoration,” owned by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., is one of more than 60 vases made by Tiffany Studios in the exhibition. The 1898-99 work is comprised of handblown glass, rubies, as well as enamel by Eugene Feuillâtre and a silver mount designed by Edward Colonna.