Copper in the Arts

September 2010

Purpose and Re-Purpose: The Reclaimed Copper Art of Shaw Lakey

By Michael Cervin

Shaw Lakey at work

Copper artist Shaw Lakey at work.

Photograph Courtesy of Mann's Creative Designs Gallery

Calling copper artist Shaw Lakey resourceful would be an understatement. To create his bronze and copper covered sculptures, he first hauls old pieces of driftwood from the banks of the Cape Fear River in Carolina Beach, then uses metal to give new life to the old wood.

Many of his reclaimed pieces are of water creatures, fish, turtles, sea horses, but there is also the more abstract work which allows for a less literal interpretation.

Originally from South Florida, Shaw had basic education in public schools; painting and drawing and such, but no formal art education. He worked in a machine shop, as a carpenter, boat captain, and acquired a marine technology degree, and scuba certification. His foray into art based on his past experiences "all came together," he says. He was first inspired by the woodwork he saw in Jamaica where locals used a minimal approach by simply sanding wood and applying shoe polish. He then began experimenting with reclaimed cedar, oak, and cypress and adding copper and bronze. Today, he is represented by The Gallery @ Racine in Wilmington, NC and his 20-30 pieces routinely on display fly off the walls.

"I just love the copper and wood combined," he says. "Copper is organic and has a warmth to it." he says. He might occasionally use alabaster or coral as minimal accents, but ultimately he prefers copper. Instead of using molds, Shaw makes each piece unique by hand-sanding and waxing the driftwood, before hand-hammering the copper that covers it.

Bronze sculpture by Shawn Lakey Sunny, light pine, copper and bronze sculpture by Shawn Lakey

Photograph Courtesy of Mann's Creative Designs Gallery

"People appreciate the organic nature of the driftwood and how I go out in a boat and find it," he admits but he will rarely use another metal. "I like the way copper works and finishes---and the way it looks."

He used to use recycled copper from scrap yards but with the building industry in a slump, he now purchases 24 gauge roll and sheet from Best Distributing located in Wilmington, NC.

"I'll get the whole piece of driftwood finished and colored with brow wax. Then I'll start on the copper, which I'll beat on for days to get the shape, like a fin or a scale," he says. "Then I'll do a bronze overlay brazed on the copper."

Most people hide their welds and brazing, but Shaw embraces it. "It gives my pieces strength and contrasts with the copper." He torches his copper to get the desired color and sometimes weathers his copper sheet outside. To lock in the colors for exterior works, he uses an automotive body clear coat. The wood he finds can be small or as large as 500 pounds. In the case of a large piece of driftwood turned into a fish for example, it will have a dorsal fin of five or six feet high made of copper and bronze.

He's done work for local restaurants and businesses and has commissioned pieces, though there's nothing like the satisfaction of creating something from your imagination. One collector has about 20 pieces of his work, and Shaw occasionally has work sold to China. He has been invited to other exhibit at other galleries but prefers to stay local and craft unique pieces from whatever the earth gives him.


Shaw Lakey, Wilmington, NC, (910) 233-1291, also shown at The Gallery @ Racine, (910) 452-2073

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