Copper in the Arts

December 2011

Copperland: Decking The Halls with Copper

By Nancy Ballou

Apple on Branch Apple on Branch, copper ornament.

Photograph courtesy of Copperland

This year, many people are turning to copper to give their homes that holiday glow. And, at Copperland, one of the oldest arts and crafts stores in the country, their copper wreaths, ornaments and holiday accents are always in high demand.

Copperland's owner Jake Gariepy serendipitously found his way into the world of copper art after he lost his job of 28 years as a furnace operator at the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company. He went on to find work with the area's only coppersmith, and after learning the craft, he and his wife began their own business after the coppersmith left and named it Copperland. Over the next few decades, under the resourceful helm of Gariepy and his wife, Copperland became a thriving family business.

"I discovered copper was a metal that can be transformed into so many beautiful and interesting shapes and I did not have to sit at a desk for eight hours," says Terry Gariepy, Jake's son, who soon joined the business. Terry's wife, Jean, then quit her job of 20 years in 1990 to join the family business, though Jake continued to work until his death in 1991. Terry retired in 1996 due to health problems and Jean then became owner and operator of Copperland Arts & Crafts. Terry then took the business to the next level by employing local welder and friend Jim Noetzel, wholesaling more products, and creating a website.

Today, Copperland is known for their sculptures, and highly-sought after holiday ornaments, each created freehand using a flame cutter, then sprayed with a protective clear coating to ready them for hanging on any tree or wall.

Jean working in the studio. Jean cutting the leaves with a torch in her studio.

Photograph courtesy of Copperland

"The sheet copper we use in our creations is purchased over the internet after we check about six suppliers for the best price," says Terry. "We use only acetylene/oxygen torches to construct our sculptures and brass brazing rods are melted to connect pieces together and provide highlights. Also, brass sheets may be incorporated to add another visual feature. We enjoy creating visually appealing shapes of either one or three dimensional art. In all the years we've been doing this, it is still very interesting and challenging," according to Jean.

To help offset the increasing cost of copper, they repurpose the smaller pieces of copper that remain after creating larger sculptures. "We use some to make mini leaves that fit in a 2" x 2" area and 3/4 " circles for berries on our blossom sculptures," he says.

Then,they add their signature patina using various methods.

"Different colors are achieved by heating with the torch, then rapidly cooling with water. We also color some pieces by custom blending our lacquer tints, then airbrushing or hand painting," Jean explains. "We finally seal everything by spraying on a clear automotive lacquer. A few of our works are finished with a commercial green patina which gives them an aged look."

Blossom Ring

Blossom Ring, copper sculpture.

Photograph courtesy of Copperland

Although holiday ornaments and decor are very popular, there is no lack of variety in the copper sculptures they produce. Maple trees range from 30" to a 7'5" tree with more than 300 leaves. There are floor model water fountains, a mini tree of life, mountain scenes, copper ducks flying in various positions, teddy bears, butterflies and bird feeders. For fishermen and boat enthusiasts, they offer yacht anchors, Barkentine sailing ships, ore boats, lighthouses and trout. Southwestern deco art includes cactus/coyote scenes and copper kokopelli. Copper and brass abstract collages of bright, vibrant colors almost command the eye to look at them. Most nature pieces are done freehand though some have master patterns. They can be brazed onto brass stands or wooden bases, too.

Located in Lake Linden on Highway M-26, Copperland remains the oldest store that crafts copper on site. Though currently closed from November 1, 2011 through April 30, 2012, "We are at the shop most of November completing orders for the retail shops we supply and rebuilding inventory for our two Christmas craft shows," Jean reports.

The show in Escanaba, Michigan, held the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving is 180 miles one way.

Natural, Red, Blue Blossoms Natural, Red, Blue Blossoms. Copper ornament.

Photograph courtesy of Copperland

The second show in Marquette, Michigan, at the Superior Dome, is the following weekend. The Gariepys describe that as "The largest craft show on Michigan's Upper Peninsula with approximately 8,000 people attending the three-day event. Both shows are really great to do. Along with selling the majority of our copper sculptures, we get to see many of our repeat customers and accept custom orders to be completed in the spring. The most popular items at the Christmas shows are our copper pine boughs which Jean usually clear coats herself and our single blossom wall hanging that is done in various colors."

Jean recalls fond memories of the Gariepy family business through the years. "When our son Christopher was five, we found him trying to sell rocks from our parking lot, thinking they were valuable copper nuggets. Another time, after we asked some customers in the store if we could help them, we heard our grandson, age three at the time, ask a couple if they were going to buy something or were they just 'wookin.' "

Resources:

Copperland Arts & Crafts, 53051 Highway M-26, Lake Linden, MI, (906) 296-9191

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