Copper in the Arts

September 2008

Artists Give New Life to Recycled Copper

By Donna Dvorak

recycled copper pendantRecycled copper pendant, Christy Robinson

Photograph courtesy of Christy Robinson

With timeless appeal, and beautiful aged patinas, many artists are turning to recycled copper to create eco-friendly art that makes a statement.

Recycled jewelry artist, Christy Robinson has been creating one-of-a-kind copper pieces since 1994. She even repurposes her client's old or vintage earrings, chains, or necklaces and forms them into something new and wearable. Her background includes traditional jewelry techniques like lost wax casting, soldering, metal fabrication, and enamels. She has been working with alternative methods and materials for sixteen years.

"I like recycled copper because of its rich color and warmth," she explains. "It's a comforting metal that is beautiful, too. I actually delved into the recycled copper jewelry business when I was young and working with another jeweler. I had met someone who was creating decorative water fountains out of copper. One day he brought me other jewelry boxes and cartons of scrap left over from his fountains. He thought that perhaps I could use it in my work. I started using it in my designs because I was learning, but it grew from that point and I still use repurposed copper. Some of it is leftover since 1994."

Christy Robinson in her studio Christy Robinson in her studio

Photograph courtesy of Christy Robinson

All of Robinson's metals and loops are from ethical sources and made in the USA. Her pieces can also be viewed on Etsy, including her earth friendly, recycled copper charm that's hand stamped with a selection of different words - Namaste, dream, love, laugh and more.

"My most popular is the Vegan Star, created from recycled copper," she says. " It contains a little sterling silver tag that actually says 'vegan' on it, but the star dangles from the recycled copper. Another one of my pieces has a star created from earth friendly recycled copper that has a shiny finish and a sterling silver soldered loop for attaching to your own chord or chain. I try to use whatever I can. Customers also love my ring that I create from a wine cork. The main sheet is recycled copper with a bezel setting, then sterling silver around the edge of that setting. On it is printed 'every day is earth day'. The wine cork is actually set into the bezel, and a tiny green rhinestone is set into that and sealed with an earth friendly matte sealer for protection.

copper pig bracelet Recycled copper pig bracelet

Jewelry designs and photographs courtesy of Christy Robinson
copper cork ring Earth Day, recycled copper and cork ring

Robinson lives in downtown Dallas, in an industrial, urban area chock full of recycling centers. Even her apartment and studio are recycled---she resides in the old Sears building that's now called "Southside on Lamar".

"Although I comb the recycling centers as much as possible, many people know that I use recycled copper in my art, and bring me a multitude of metal, which is great for me," she explains. "I also have an artist friend who teaches at a local high school and brings me leftover sheets of copper from his student's etching and printmaking classes. I consider it a form of recycling because otherwise they'd throw it out, which would be a terrible waste. I also create animal friendly jewelry from copper that relates to vegetarianism and vegans because it all ties into our environment. The two kinds go together."

Christian and AuraVaughn Raven, owners of Raven Arts, reside in the Kitsap Peninsula of Washington State, and specialize in recycled copper art sculptures. They've been eco-friendly before it was en vogue, and have chosen to use recycled U.S. copper rather than buy internationally.

Herons and copper artist of raven arts AuraVaughn Raven and her recycled copper herons, by Raven Arts

Photographs courtesy of AuraVaughn Raven
BrazingChristian Raven, brazing copper

"My wife, AuraVaughn, is an artist of her own rank and merit, and I'm a copper artist who used to export copper from Mexico," says Christian. "Now we get it from metal recyclers. We used to be able to get it anywhere - even from old, cast-off refrigerators, but now that Freon has to be removed, they remove the copper pipes and filters. The filters are made of spun copper that appears like a cattail, but it's impossible to find it anymore because technology has done away with that item entirely. So, we find other items to recycle. I learned my craft from one of the master coppersmiths in charge of the Statue of Liberty renovations - Hector Montoya. He taught me all forms of freehand copper work - hammered over form, braised torch-work and other ancient European methods. All of our patinas are hand crafted with custom chemical mixtures to create a diverse color palette that continues to evolve over a period of time, thus reinventing itself as a richer color tone. One of the greatest things about recycled metals is they can be polished back to their natural beauty before application. At Raven Arts, we have taken garden art to a new level with copper wildlife sculptures, water fountains, indoor and outdoor lighting, copper flowers, bird houses and baths, and more - all custom designed and created in the USA. Our one-of-a-kind life-like copper sculptures are created from the elements of metal and fire and each one has hundreds of individual hand cut, hand hammered copper components that are formed and brazed into place."

According to Christian, their most popular recycled copper pieces are their herons, a graceful but tall bird, their assortment of fountains, and their seventh anniversary copper rose.

design placement of copper Design placement of Raven Arts recycled copper art

Photograph courtesy of AuraVaughn Raven

"Some of our copper herons have 2000 individual copper feathers that we cut from 16 oz. copper sheets," he explains. "We get our copper from the recycling plant in Seattle, Washington - Pacific Iron and Metal. Because the seventh anniversary denotes copper and wool, we created a copper rose surrounded by wool that fulfills a great need for anniversary gifts. In fact, we receive many calls from husbands searching for this particular item! Our fountains are also a popular item. People enjoy copper fountains because they don't 'algae up', which keeps a pond cleaner. In fact, people now paint the bottom of ship hulls with copper so the barnacles don't attach."

One of Raven Art's most popular fountains is Whispering Waters - designed for an indoor or outdoor wall. The water flow is perfectly balanced between each of the five pooling leaves and the copper reservoir.

"Each piece is carefully cut and hammered separately, then brazed into place one leaf at a time," Christian explains.

Resources:

Try your hand at turning your old copper wires into a new piece of art. Use these step-by-step instructions for making a recycled copper butterfly.

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