Copper in the Arts

September 2008

Handmade in Tampa: The Copper Jewelry of Tina Gasperson

By Michael Cervin

swirlyRecycled copper wire rings

Photograph courtesy of Tina Gasperson

Every artist starts somewhere and for jewelry maker Tina Gasperson, her recent foray into using copper is still in its infancy.

"I'm a total neophyte, but that's part of the fun," she says. "My mom was a seamstress and taught me to sew and work with fabric when I was young. I began embellishing fabrics with sequins and rhinestones," she says. She may be on the learning curve, but this Florida based artist has already experienced success with her jewelry, though she started down a much different path. She majored in fashion design at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa, learning how to paint fashion illustrations with watercolors and chalk. She gravitated to working with silver and crafting jewelry. "But then I saw people working with copper and I really liked it. It's a friendly substance, it responds well when you work with it and it's really malleable. It's also easy to harden it with a chasing hammer and steel block."

Aside from getting copper wire at her local hardware store, Gasperson is resourceful, always on the lookout for alternative ways to obtain materials for her art.

"My husband was doing the addition to our house and I used some of the scrap wire from the electrical and it snowballed from there," she says. One day they found coils of sheathed copper wire, and after pulling the sheath off, they discovered it already had a beautiful black patina.

Although Tina incorporates other materials into her art---aluminum, silver, precious metal clay, and 14K gold--- copper is by far her favorite.

"Even with your fingers, you can work with copper and see how it responds to being moved," she says. "I use small movements, tiny work; a lot of times I use a magnifying glass."

copper bracelet Recycled copper wire bracelet

Photograph courtesy of Tina Gasperson

Her "simple girly swirl rings" for example are modest wire pieces she twists by hand. She also produces bracelets, anklets, even tiaras, anything that can be worn on the body.

One pair of earrings she created was prompted by a Frank Lloyd Wright design. But for Tina, inspiration can come from any source, and at any time.

"I was tired one night and I was looking at the comforter on my bed which has a lot of embellished embroidery and there is a section of flowers," she recalls. "It looked up at me and said 'twist me out of wire and I'll look really beautiful.' So at 10 at night I got out my stash box and started twisting the copper wire. Then I thought it would be nice to hammer that so I did, and I linked a bunch of them together and made this beautiful flower motif. I find that if I just go through life, the inspiration happens."

She uses copper wire ranging from 28 gauge to 4 gauge and has tried various ways of bringing a patina to her copper including using a torch to create, "instant pinks and greens and browns." She has also used the ammonia & vinegar method and a less known effort using eggs. "You hard boil an egg, while it's still hot you crack it open and put the egg and the copper in plastic bag and let it sit," she says. As the egg cools, it releases sulfur which then creates a golden brown color and with a little more time, a black patina.

She plans on showing her latest work at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, where just 300 artists showcase their work to a quarter of a million visitors. She's already been contacted by a consignment store in New Jersey to carry her work, and she's sold to clients as far away as Hawaii and as close as the Midwest. She's even received her first commission to create a ginkgo leaf motif necklace.

"Handmade items, like what I do bring a lot of value to people," she says, emphasizing the sentimental value of her jewelry. "More and more people are beginning to appreciate the intrinsic value of handmade objects."

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