Copper in the Arts

April 2010

Rob Koehl: Serendipity Through Copper

By Frank Ross

Copper Snapper Snapper, copper sculpture by Rob Koehl

Photograph courtesy of Rob Koehl

Rob Koehl came by his love of working with metal at an early age, watching his father casting iron in the sweltering heat of his forge.

"My dad, when I was a kid, used to cast iron," recalls Koehl. "So, I grew up watching him work, from outside his foundry. After the day's work was done, I'd watch him empty the furnace at night and you'd see all the sparks flying everywhere. On weekends, Dad would go in and grind some of the flashing off the moulds, and the sparks would fly. So I had that experience as a young kid, then I went to college and made the compromise. I wanted to study art, but thought I should be in business, so I found myself in graphic design. It didn't take long to find out I didn't like doing what other people told me when it came to being creative."

Ohio University had a good bronze casting program, and Koehl shifted his focus to sculpture. Through a recommendation from a professor, Koehl met a blacksmith and watched him create an angel fish out a piece of copper by hammering the sheet to make its form, and the seed was planted.

"I know a lot of people tend to come to copper sculpting through jewelry, but for me it was through blacksmithing," explains Koehl.

Blacksmithing requires working the metal hot, but Koehl liked working with copper when it's cold.

Copper Maple LeafCopper Maple leaf, by Rob Koehl

Photograph courtesy of Rob Koehl

"Working with copper, you must understand the annealing process, and the folding of it," he says. "You take it to the extreme and bring it back a little bit. You can hammer it hard and anneal it soft and start all over again. I love the way copper brazes together so easily. I use a pretty cheap Turbo Torch SF-1 rod. It works off of oxy-acetylene. It's real nice, real strong stuff. It takes a patina better than silver and it's like thirteen bucks a pound. You can build it up a little bit. I think if you were to list the secrets to my technique it would be that rod, one of them anyway," he said.

Koehl currently works in his Cottonwood, Arizona studio, and purchases his copper materials from Quick Ship Metals. To broaden the marketability of his work, Koehl is moving beyond the purely artistic, combining functionality with a copper sculpture that serves a useful purpose as well as being aesthetically pleasing. His concept is to have copper kinetic sculptures that use solar and wind power to charge a laptop or cell phone.

"You'd have a piece of art works off the wind----basically a pretty windmill that would put out enough DC current, maybe with a battery to store up a little bit of current that you could," he says. "I'm tinkering with that a little bit. It's probably not going to be completed in the next six months, but I'm working on it."

Resources:

Rob Koehl, 1904 S. Contention Lane, Cottonwood, AZ, (928) 282-5028

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