Copper in the Arts

December 2007

Reggie Farmer: Modern Day Coppersmith

By Donna Dvorak

Reggie Farmer Coppersmith Reggie Farmer creates his hand- hammered copper bowls on tree stumps.

Photograph by Paul David
Reggie Farmer blends ancient metal- forming techniques with modern technology to produce unique one-of-a kind copper bowls. Farmer, who resides in Birdsboro, PA, has been creating beautiful copper art for two years.

“I’ve been a metal fabricator and welder for twenty years, and have a degree in metal fabrication technology from Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, in Lancaster,” he reveals. “I purchase my copper from Copper and Brass Sales in Collingdale, PA, and buy it in 3' by 8' sheets. I’m now working on a 22-inch diameter bowl and it’s probably going to be six-to-eight inches deep with an adornment of concentric circles on the surface sides, which gives it rigidity. I try to incorporate different methods and techniques, and sometimes use stainless or aluminum, but I’ve found that copper works best and is the most fun to use.”

Farmer begins by bossing 16-gauge copper sheets into hand-hammered bowls on tree stumps. The surface of the metal is left as raw copper or prepared with a buffed mirror, satin brushed or hammer-toned finish. Through extensive research and experimentation, he has developed patination techniques with various chemicals to produce exotic combinations of colors, patterns, textures and finishes. Finally, the piece is sealed with acrylic lacquer to protect it.

“I’ll soon be starting a commissioned piece for a swimming pool in Nantucket that will be a water feature sitting on the edge of the pool,” he explains. “This is also a 22-inch diameter bowl, but this one will be heavy, as I’ll use 14-gauge copper. Copper is a molecular structure and corrodes easily, so I’ll put a powder coat on it so it doesn’t tarnish and will remain a nice copper color.”

According to Farmer, the powder coating is a process where powdered polymers are applied electrostatically to the piece, heated in a special oven, which melts the plastic and creates a smooth coat. He used to build racecars and used this special powdered polymer on his 1956 Chevy to protect it, instead of paint. The powdered coating goes within a couple millionths-of-an-inch and bonds perfectly, whereas painting would involve many solvents and primer. All of his work is hand hammered copper ware and most are created from 16-gauge sheet metal.

Reggie Farmer spoons Copper spoons hand shaped by artist Reggie Farmer

Photograph by Paul David

“I use the ancient techniques of bossing, where the metal is hand-hammered into hardwood stumps, raising where the metal is hammered over forming heads and dollies – a piece of metal in the shape of a ‘T’ – and a shot bag, which is a leather bag filled with sand or lead shot that can be formed into any shape you desire,” he explains. “Then, I hammer the metal into it with a mallet. It’s an old technique. Next, the metal is smoothed on an air powdered planishing hammer to remove the shrink and stretch marks, and then the surface of the metal is left as raw copper or prepared with a buffed-mirrored, satin brushed or hammer-toned finish. The surface of the metal is left as raw copper.”

Farmer and his wife, Beth, travel around to different arts and crafts shows together, including the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsman, the Hagley Museum, the Kutztown Folk Festival, which usually draws approximately 135,000 people, and the Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square, PA, which draws a quarter of a million people. 

“I wouldn’t be able to do it without her,” he adds. “I feel like the luckiest person in the world because I’m able to make a living doing what I love."

Resources:

Video of Reggie Farmer fabricating a copper bowl Reggie Farmer can be reached at (610) 413-0735, or by email.

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