Copper in the Arts

February 2008

Copper Inspires Contemporary Jewelry Designers

By Donna Dvorak

Acorn copper necklace

Electroplated copper necklace

Photograph by Allison Fomich

In this celebrated month of romance, forget chocolates, champagne and caviar. Instead, indulge your sweetheart with jewelry! Copper, bronze, or brass necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings will light up your Valentine's face, and are guaranteed to last a lifetime. Choose from a stunning selection of electroplated copper over natural elements, like a copper butterfly wing necklace that is très chic, or hydrangea petals and pinecones pressed in copper or brass. Today's contemporary jewelry artists look to copper and its alloys to make a statement with their work, and create long lasting wearable art pieces that are redefining the jewelry industry.

"My jewelry makes an unusual and unique gift for anyone who loves copper, not only for St. Valentine's Day, but all year round," says copper jewelry artist, sculptor, upholsterer and mom, Allison Fomich, from Baltimore, Maryland. "I began creating copper jewelry in 2006, but also have a Master's Degree in sculpture. I graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art, with a MFA in Sculpture, in 1998, and obtained my BFA in Sculpture from Edinboro University of PA, in 2003. I'm basically a sculptor, however, when attending grad school, they offered jewelry classes. It was mostly casting and forming, but they didn't offer electroforming. I had received an artist grant from the City of Baltimore, and was able to create a studio in my basement. I purchased electroforming equipment."

Originally, Fomich's goal was to utilize electroforming for sculpture purposes, but in her studio, through exploration of trial and error, she began creating small pieces of jewelry. When her daughter was six months old she posted her work on Etsy and realized that a market existed for her work. She also designed plastic jewelry and fiber button jewelry, but after investing in the electroforming equipment, began collecting natural elements.

Allison Fomich

Allison Fomich in her studio

Photograph courtesy of Allison Fomich

"I'd take my young daughter and stroll through parks, sculpture gardens and museums and collected natural items," she explains. "I learned that you can take an organic object, paint an electrically conducted coating of copper, or copper paint on it, and then immerse it in a plating bath from four to eight hours to build up a thick layer of copper around the object. Therefore, the actual piece of nature is encased in that copper. I collect interesting seed pods, all sizes of acorns, tiny hemlock pinecones that are a half-inch high, and anything funky or crunchy looking, then turn it into a wearable one-of-a kind piece of art that shines on its own. Most of my pieces are placed on a copper chain, and I order my copper from Rio Grande, in New Mexico."

Fomich also offers another line of copper nature jewelry where she collects leaves and insect wings and presses them into copper sheets to create new pieces of jewelry for earrings and necklaces.

"I like the durability of copper in jewelry," she continues. "The nature of copper is that it oxidizes over time and changes its patina. I tell my customers to take care of this special jewelry by using a jewelry polishing cloth on occasion to return the piece to its original shine. Never dip it in chemicals. Many people purchase copper jewelry for its medicinal purposes, because it touches the skin and transfers the copper onto the skin. In fact, many companies now insert copper into their skin creams."

For those who reside in Baltimore, or like to travel, Fomich will be at the Baltimore Convention Center at the American Craft Counsel Convention this month. In fact, she's going to demonstrate the whole electroforming process step-by-step, so the public will have more of an understanding of electroforming and what's involved.

Electroplating copper jewelry

Fomich's electroplating process

Photograph by Allison Fomich

Brooke Spehar, owner of Oregon Jewelry, in Eugene, Oregon, also offers a wonderful selection of bronze, copper and silver jewelry that anyone would be proud to wear on their arm, around their neck, on their fingers or even in their hair. Spehar, who actually has a history degree from the University of Oregon, is a second-generation metal jewelry artist. His parents, Gary and Marti Spehar, began creating and selling their pieces at craft markets around the Northwest more than thirty years ago and Brooke has continued the artist trade. He's been working with metals since he was very young, so it became second nature to him.

"I began learning in my mom and dad's studio when I was about five or six years old and haven't stopped," he says. "But now, we all have our own unique designs and they're all lead-free. By age sixteen, I was creating my own styles and showing at craft shows along the West Coast. I create copper, bronze and silver barrettes, bracelets, earrings, hair-sticks and ornaments. In fact, one of our ornaments is encased in glass at the Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C. The one that I offer is beautiful and many people don't put it away after the holidays, they keep it on a windowsill, or in a special place where they can enjoy it all year. I enjoy using copper because it's challenging, which I like, and an extremely nice color to add or mix with other alloys. Almost all of my pieces are made with copper or at least have some type of copper accents and all are lead free."

copper barrette

Copper hair barrette by Brooke Spehar

Photograph by Brooke Spehar

Spehar uses sheets of scrap copper that he recycles from a recycling spot in town and uses metal forming tools to obtain the correct shape. He and his family have their own techniques of creating these spectacular pieces which date back 35 years.

Spehar's jewelry and accessories are constructed from bronze, copper, and nickel silver. He designed a hair barrette with solid copper, and others from solid bronze and nickel silver. Most of his jewelry, he states, has all three materials mixed with it. For those romantic souls searching for something different this year, he offers magnificent hair combs that are one-of-a-kind, and popular for all occasions.

"They're definitely great gifts and work very well with long to moderately long hair," he explains. "Within my large selection of hair combs is a solid bronze, copper and nickel silver hair comb, approximately six-inches tall and two-inches wide. All of the metal forming is done while the material is red-hot and/or molten. Another gorgeous hair comb - that any woman would be proud to wear in her hair - is a solid nickel silver hair comb with copper and bronze accents. It works like a barrette and is 1.5-inches wide and five inches tall."

To create his elegant earrings Spehar begins with pattern sheet metal in bronze or copper. The earrings, which are perfect for any occasion and make quite a statement, are actually solid copper with a plating of sterling silver over it, which provides a copper patina look. The French ear wires are constructed of hypoallergenic surgical steel. His copper and nickel silver round earrings are actually, according to Spehar, a "hoop within a hoop."

His teardrop earrings feature handcrafted lampwork beads within a circle in the center of the teardrop, featuring his own handcrafted center bead.

"For my barrettes I start out with just a 12-gauge copper wire and hand blend all the pieces, then use an acetylene torch, and they're all hand-brazed together," he explains. "After that, they're handformed or pounded and given a fine finish. My medium sized copper hair barrette, with nickel silver accents, holds all types of hair and locks into place by twisting the stick. They can also double as a magnificent adornment for sashes and scarves. I encourage my customers to be creative. I have also designed a solid bronze, copper and nickel silver scenic hair barrette and, although all of my jewelry is individually handcrafted. This one, to me, is the most original. This particular barrette, that can be viewed on my Web site, is approximately five-inches long and two-inches tall."

Copper artist Brooke Spehar

Artist Brooke Spehar welding in his studio

Photograph courtesy of Brooke Spehar

Spehar has created bracelets to adorn the most elegant arms for posh parties, as well as 'wear-to-work' accessories that take you from day to a night on the town.

"I've have a heart bracelet that's created in solid copper as well as silver that's perfect for Valentine's Day," he explains. "These are very popular and sell not only throughout the month of February, but all year long. Some of my bracelets are solid copper. There are many people who wear copper bracelets for medicinal purposes, and most of them are plain bands, which can be boring, so I decided to infuse different shapes in it for those who are more fashion conscious. I've also created a solid bronze, copper and nickel mixed media cuff bracelet that's always in fashion. It can be bent to fit most arms, but people can also order it to fit. The beautiful mountains in Oregon inspired me to craft another cuff bracelet."

For those who desire personal designs or sizes, Spehar will be happy to personally craft something special.

"The pieces that are currently on my site are just a fraction of my inventory," he explains. "I'm constantly creating and posting new designs."

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