Copper in the Arts

August 2011

Copper Gardens: Where Gates and the Outside World Join

By Jennifer Hetrick

A-wide-set-copper-gate A wide set copper gate.

Photograph courtesy of David Burns

When David Burns isn't hiking his weekends away in the Sierras, he's in his shop perfecting pieces of copper art brought to his mind by the inspirations of his time spent out in the open air, soaking in the rich view of trees, mountains and sky in Northern California.

As a self-taught woodworker and home builder, Burns noticed that working inside a house and remodeling, with tension and stress regularly in the rooms, led to what he calls "tight money" in his now former career. While helping a landscape designer friend by installing gates, pergolas, fences and outbuildings for her, he realized that working outside, playing in the dirt, seemed to actualize "happy money."

With his wife Annie as a flight attendant, he once traveled to Rome, waiting for her as he sat across from the Pantheon and thought of how his wooden deck project in the works for a job at home would not be around for anyone to see in another century. But glimpsing the Pantheon's ancient structure stirred him to think of how different his labors would be if he channeled them into something with longevity-and so his deep-rooted penchant for copper began.

"It was comfortable," Burns says about when he first touched copper with the intention of creating art from it, famous for his specialty gates today. "It just made sense and felt right, correct."

About 15 years ago, Burns opened Copper Gardens in a shop just a few footfalls away from his home in Rough and Ready, CA. Since then, he has displayed his landscape complements at garden shows around the region, but most of his pieces are custom orders.

An-outer-window-garden-structure An outer window garden structure.

Photograph courtesy of David Burns

Although he'd like to focus more on art for his own purposes, initial national exposure to his collections began to reel in a clientele list from all across the globe. This allowed him to follow the luxury of having a job he wouldn't trade for anything else, Burns admits in his retirement age.

A former racecar driver and auto repair shop owner, Burns had access to a slew of tools in his copper shop, but has also made his own, along with his own hinges and locks for gates, since none are pre-made.

Burns once built a copper-stretched circular couch in four seven-foot sections for a client with a home in the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas-bamboo and banana palm leaves trailing its expanse.

A somewhat comical anecdote stems from a repeat customer, one of the founding members of The Grateful Dead, Bob Weir, in that people keep accidentally driving into his custom-built gate made by Burns. This means Burns is handling repairs of the gate for Weir more than he's ever spent time working for any other client.

In addition to his copper gates, Burns also creates custom lighting, fountains, wall pieces, chairs, tables and recently finished two life-size heron replicas. He also teaches his approach to small classes, passing his legacy on.

"It somehow does my heart good to know that somebody, somewhere thought about a future that he or she would never see. I just have such great respect for that," Burns says about using copper in art. "To me, that's thinking about others."

Resources:

Copper Gardens, Rough and Ready, CA 95975. (530) 432-9598

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