Copper in the Arts

June 2008

Copper Art Shines in the Garden

By Donna Dvorak

copper garden stars

Copper garden stars by Bruce Snyder

Photograph by Bruce Snyder

This summer, as buds and blossoms bloom in the blazing sun, copper art is cropping up in gardens across the country. These illuminating copper garden accents provide majestic patinas and a sheen fit for a king, with just the right touch of glow peeking through your perennials. Today's leading copper artisans are creating imaginative and functional copper art that bring a touch of whimsy and movement to the garden aesthetic.

Bruce Snyder, a renaissance soul from Saugerties, New York, is a self-taught artist in many fields, including stained glass, realist pencil drawings and paintings. He has now realized his greatest passion---copper. His line of functional solid copper and hand blown glass sculpture for the home and garden are whimsical, fun, and decorative.

"I started working with copper about eight years ago," he says. "Prior to that I was dabbling with rustic furniture, but began to work with copper sculptures at the time I was getting out of the furniture business. I actually put some of my copper sculptures in a furniture show and they sold so quickly that it provided me with the incentive to continue working in copper. All of my copper creations sell well and my clients return for the latest piece, but my best selling item is part of my kinetic copper garden art, my Twister Whirligig. It is the most popular and interesting; besides being aesthetically beautiful, the spin is incredibly easy and frictionless in the wind. The Twister Whirligig could be spinning and you wouldn't think that wind is in the air. They spin on small ball bearing assemblies."

Snyder obtains his copper from a building supply and lumber store in Woodstock, NY, because it's typically sold there in 3 X 8 sheets for builders to construct copper roofs.

"Besides the Twister Whirligig, part of my garden line includes a variety of garden stakes that I create in many dimensions," he says. "They're interesting and popular. Actually, out of my last ten orders, five were for the Stars Stake. It's kind of neat because I braise it. I usually don't braise with brass, but braise with a different braising material for other sculptures. Red solder isn't used in any of my sculptures because it's not durable enough. I use brass (instead) to achieve the special affect that my customers desire. My Stars Garden Stake is 28-inches high and 14-inches wide and appears to be shooting out of the ground. All garden supports are solid copper and clear coated for long-lasting weather resistance."

lunar moth by Catherine Murphy

Lunar Moth by Catherine Murphy

Photograph courtesy of Margy Murphy

Another popular garden stake - for any size garden, yard, or deck is Snyder's flower garden stake. As he says, "the flower won't wilt away, it's a great feature for wintertime or any time!" The Flower Garden Stake contains a one-inch diameter cobalt blue marble. According to Snyder, he receives many inspirational comments from his clients and customers, and many times he incorporates their ideas into his work.

"My business is totally Web-based," he explains. "Without the Internet, I wouldn't have a business. I usually don't attend craft shows because you can only reach one community at a time. On the Internet I've managed to reach the whole world and I've shipped many of my copper pieces, both indoor and out, to England, Italy, France and other international countries.

If you're searching for something unique that incorporates other cultures, Lee Coulter, who recently left California to put down roots in Rhode Island, has perfect pieces to incorporate a sense of calm and purity while adding decorative features. Coulter creates sculptures in bronze, brass, copper and steel. His metal working creativeness evolved while starting out as a jeweler in California. In 1990, he moved to Zurich, Switzerland and created marble and alabaster sculptures. While in Europe, he traveled around with other European artists and returned to California in 1991, where he exhibited his work at the Santa Barbara Art Show. He now has twenty years of showing his work in both the USA and Europe, and now his work can be viewed in New England and on the East coast, as well as a list of galleries who carry his magnificent pieces.

catherine murphy in her studio

Copper artist Catherine Murphy in her studio

Photograph by Ken Pitts

"I like using copper and brass because of the color," he says. "I can do more with the patina and polishing, it weathers nicely and doesn't rust like steel. I also like to put colored patinas on the sculpture."

Coulter's inspiration for his bronze sculptures are derived from Chinese characters where he's taken the character and welded it into three-dimensional bronze.

"The character for woman was the first Chinese one that I attempted to create and it turned out well," he explains. "It inspired me to search for other characters that would work three-dimensionally. There are thousands of characters, but it helps if they have a base of some sort. I look for a character that is simple enough in its design for me to make it work into a sculpture, so I could only find approximately ten characters that would actually work as sculptures."

According to Coulter, the Water Sculpture was inspired by the Chinese character for water, the source of all potentialities with the yin principle - dissolve, purify, wash away and regenerate. Out of the primordial waters rises the stem of the great lotus, the world axis. His River Sculpture shows three streams that join to form a river - demonstrating the flux of the world in manifestation. His characters for light and child also represent Chinese characters, and all of these graceful sculptures can be placed outside or stay indoors.

"I recently moved to Rhode Island from California last June, so I was purchasing my copper from Sequoia Brass and Copper in Hayward, CA, but now I'm traveling around trying to find a good source," he explains. "I've been going to manufacturers for different copper and brass items and purchasing pieces from their scrap bin where they have, perhaps, half-used copper/bronze/brass sheets in the bin. At that point it's more useful to me because I create abstract sculptures and I can cut out different pieces, weld them together and create a sculpture."

Triangulation copper art

Triangulation by Lee Coulter

Photograph by Isabelle Coulter

Coulter's famous outdoor pieces include sculptures like his first kinetic creation that he calls the Wave Sculpture. In 1989, after approximately a month of trial and error to get it worked out, he received a design patent on it.

"My Wave sculpture has cups that catch the wind, revolving the sculpture in different directions," he says. "Each wing revolves in the opposite direction so three sections within the sculpture all revolve in opposite directions. It can be viewed on my Web site. I also have a Butterfly and Sun kinetic sculpture, as well as the Stars and Moon. Recently, I created another sculpture called the Planets. It contains four moving sections that revolve in different directions. Each section has a symbol for one of the plants on the end of it, so it's basically a miniature solar system with the sun in the center and different planets revolving around it. All of the cups in the kinetic pieces are created from copper.

Another inspiring place to purchase unique outdoor copper sculptures and other creations is Haw Creek Forge, owned by Catherine Murphy, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Asheville, North Carolina. They've been at that site for ten years and pride themselves on "continuing the tradition of handcrafted in the mountains". According to Murphy, many of their creations can be displayed inside people's homes, as well as outside.

"We order our copper from several places because we haven't been able to purchase all of the types of copper that we use from one place, so it all works out," she explains. "We order our copper sheets from Best Distributing Company, in Ashville, N.C., our tubing from Modern Supply, in Knoxville, Tenn., and our wire from Graybar Electric, in Ashville, NC.

Murphy considers all of her copper creations timeless. She's tried to narrow down her line, but still creates magnificent pieces.

Lee Coulter

Copper artist Lee Coulter at work

Photograph by Isabelle Coulter
"We have repeat customers who are collectors and have shopped with me for more than twenty years, so they've collected many things and keep returning to add more of our creations to their collections," she says. "They rave how my garden accessories have held up in the weather. That's because all of my garden accessories are UV resistant. I'm self taught and used to work as a welder, building power plants and paper mills. I was working in primarily steel, and took a weeklong workshop on copper in one of the local schools and fell in love with it. Now, I enjoy creating whimsical garden sculptures that include Lunar moths, butterflies, ladybugs, copper sage, dragonflies, hummingbirds, leaping frogs, bats and cone flowers. These have many details in them and come in two finishes (either natural copper or coneflower red). We exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show and I won my second ribbon this year for 'marketplace garden accessories'. Last year I won a first place ribbon in the same category."

Murphy's affinity for copper stems from the metal's long-lasting charm and unfading beauty in the backdrop of the garden.

"Copper is great for the outdoors because it's so timeless," adds Murphy. " It doesn't corrode like other metals, is impervious to the weather and, of course, it's going to be around forever - even outside in your garden."

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