Copper in the Arts

February 2010

The Beautiful History of Capital Copper

By Janie Franz

Copper Jewelry Scroll pin made from the copper of the North Carolina State Capitol dome. 2" X 1 1/2"

Photograph courtesy of Stuart Nye

Stuart Nye Jewelry's Capital line of jewelry uses reclaimed copper to create some very unique, history-laden pieces.

Though Stuart Nye Jewelry has a long history in North Carolina, it was their work with reclaimed copper from the state capital dome in Raleigh that put them on the map. "In March 1974, we got a phone call from a woman named Joy Jordan, who worked for the Department of Archives and History in Raleigh," owner and Master craftsmen Ralph Mars recalls. "She said that they had taken the copper off the capital dome. Because its roof was leaking too bad, they had to replace it. They were hoping to find someone who would melt it down and cast medallions of some sort, and they hadn't had any luck with that and wondered if we could make jewelry out of it."

Mars asked for a piece to work with. They sent several pounds of the copper and he went to work cleaning it. "It had been out in the weather for 130 years. It was very tarnished, and it looked like somebody had hit it with a hammer," Mar says. "We had to acid soak it to clean it and were careful not to disturb the patina."

When Mars sent a few finished pieces to the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, they were dubbed Capital Copper and quickly grabbed up by customers. "We couldn't make it fast enough," recalls Mars. "We'd ship it on a Monday, and they'd have it sold out on a Wednesday."

But the supply of copper was threatened early on. "Just after we had started making it, someone broke into the warehouse in Raleigh and stole the copper," Mars remembers. But the copper was recovered, and there is still a small stack left for Mars and his craftsmen to work with.

Now, 35 years later, Capital Copper, which is sold exclusively at the North Carolina Museum of History, is still popular. The museum sells a number of North Carolina made products, including a lot of other jewelry by Stuart Nye Jewelry other than Capital Copper. "Stuart Nye is our number one jeweler in sales, and the Capital Copper, in one particular grouping, is the number one seller," says Lynn Brower, Director of Retail Operations at the museum. "We sell a lot to people who want a special gift. Since we're located here in Raleigh where the state government is, many groups that are going overseas like to take the Capital Copper with them. It has special meaning. Selling anything that has a history or background to it, people buy. Of course with this, the people love the item itself, too."

Capital Copper is made into pins, earrings, cuff links, lapel pins, rings, and tie tacks in dogwood (the state flower) and pine cone (the state tree) patterns. Most of the men's jewelry is made in the pine cone motif. The dogwood pattern, however, is the most popular.

Ralph Mars and his craftsmen at Stuart Nye Jewelry are indeed recycling copper, but they are creating some very unique, history-laden pieces.

Resources:

Stuart Nye Hand Wrought Jewelry, 940 Tunnel Road, Asheville NC, (828) 298-7988

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