Copper in the Arts

November 2008

The Metal Peddler: Keeping Tradition Alive

By Melanie Votaw

Jason Working The Metal Peddler at work in his studio

Photograph courtesy of Jason Fannin

When Jason Fannin was in his 20's, he sat in a smoke-filled pub, listening to metal craftsmen talk about their work. "They had scars on their hands and burn marks all over their arms," he recalls. But what really impressed Fannin was the pride they took in their trade.

This led to his own apprenticeship in Virginia and an eventual job with a company called Chamberlain Brass, which is still owned and run by James Chamberlain. Fannin worked there for 11 years and received his Master Craftsman Certification through Chamberlain. "He taught me traditional metalwork," Fannin says. "Everything was done by hand. There were no fancy machines to do your work for you."

During this time, Fannin was living in the projects and barely making a living. So, he began to create hurricane lamps in his living room. He spent six months making 40 lamps and took them to an arts and crafts show. At 26, he thought pricing the lamps at $150-$175 was fair. So, he set up his booth on Friday, and by lunch time on Saturday, all 40 lamps had sold. Chamberlain set him straight, though, when he calculated that the hourly rate Fannin made at those prices was only about $1.50.

Fannin has come a long way since then. He now runs his own businesses in West Sunbury, Pennsylvania - The Metal Peddler, Inc. and Artisan Metal Shop. These businesses are moving into their sixth year with customers all over the world and some prestigious clientele like Donna Karan International and designer David McNulty. Fannin maintains five employees that he trained in his fabrication techniques.

"I prefer someone who doesn't know anything about the trade at all," he says. "I'll teach them my ways because my ways are the right ways. These are the ways that are time-tested…The final outcome is that the product is made very well, made using traditional methods, and we get it made in a timely manner."

The bulk of Fannin's work consisted of custom copper products, occasionally brass, including range hoods, countertops, backsplashes, pot racks, fence post caps, switch plates, mailboxes, letters and numbers, barn stars, rain chains, and even bathtubs. He takes enormous pride in the fact that no two pieces will be exactly the same.

"We'll take a piece of metal, we'll heat it, bend it, roll it, and heat it up again, then shape it with our hands - that type of thing" he says. "Everything here is handmade."

Fannin's customers are diverse. A store in Berkeley, California maintains a showroom of his work, and Alcoa came to him with a problem that he managed to solve, which led to his manufacturing two components for one of their fencing systems. A town in Georgia made it a city ordinance that if someone puts up a wood fence, they have to buy their fence post caps from The Metal Peddler.

Fairy Fountain Copper Fairy Fountain, by The Metal Peddler

Photograph courtesy of Jason Fannin

Even his company's hammered sheets are more authentic than most, according to Fannin. "A lot of companies will take the copper, lay it on gravel, and run over it with a forklift. Some companies will take a hammer and just randomly hit it," he says. "Every hammer blow [here] is purposely done to shape the copper to give it the hammered texture look. It is the same method that Gustav Stickley used…It hasn't changed in over a hundred years."

Fannin has also created some very unique patina finishes.

"It takes a lot of experimenting, doing strange things," he says. "I've taken bubble wrap and put my patina solution on it. I've used saran wrap and wrinkled-up newspaper. I've gone through a lot of different things to manipulate my finishes to get what I want." His signature patina is called "The Pompeii," and it gives the copper a mottled, antique look that almost appears textured when it catches the light.

Most of the copper used by The Metal Peddler comes from Hussey Copper in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania, but Fannin tries to recycle copper whenever possible. While he concentrates mostly on straight fabrication, he gets a yen for more artistic pieces at times. Lately, he's been thinking about creating a chandelier.

On his web site, Fannin says that the Industrial Age put many master craftsmen out of work, and their methods were forgotten.

"It is my goal to revive the master crafts of past days," he says, stressing that his customers "want that old-world craftsmanship. They want to feel the craftsmanship in it."

Resources:

The Metal Peddler, West Sunbury, PA, (866) 500-9898

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