Copper in the Arts

February 2012

Jamie Spinello Metalworks: Wearable Fashion Art Creations

By Nancy Ballou

Seaspray Copper Necklace Seaspray Necklace

Photograph courtesy of Jamie Spinello

After receiving an MFA from San Francisco Art Institute, Jamie Spinello became an art installer for local San Francisco galleries and illustrated for publishing companies until an opportunity to apprentice for a metalsmith drew her attention.

Over the course of a year, she dedicated a few hours each week to working with metal, and learned invaluable experience that eventually helped her build her own metal working studio.

"In my studio, I first began using silver but such expensive materials were hindering my creative process and making me afraid to take risks,” she recalls. “So I started hashing out my designs in copper first, then I would fabricate successful ones in silver. After I started working with copper, I found I didn't want to stop. It was very freeing. I felt like I could do anything with it. It has so many properties that were exactly what I needed. In addition to copper liberating me as a creator, it inspired me to dabble in chemistry so I could alter the surface color into varying patina finishes. I still haven't gone back to silver.”

Once she made the switch, copper started finding it’s way into her studio. Printmaker friends furnished extra copper trimmings shaved off plates they cut down. She received copper wire and tubing from friends and family that had extra pieces after remodeling their homes or offices. Other artists' friends donated copper they didn't think they were going to use.

"I stripped a lot of rubber off electrical wire in the beginning,” says Spinello. “Eventually, my production queue required more copper than I had stashed at my home studio in Austin, TX. I began buying drop from local scrap metal and fabricating companies. I'm currently working on designing a series from recycled rubber motorcycle tire tubing, copper and brass rivets."

Barnacle Necklace Barnacle Necklace

Photograph courtesy of Jamie Spinello

Her designs are hand drawn and etched using eco-friendly solutions and as many recycled/reclaimed materials as possible. Spinello then assembles, oxidizes, sands, tumbles and seals with lacquer or clear enamel. She is inspired by architecture, fossils and marine life among other interests.

Her work has had great success at the SOCO Artisan Market on Congress in Austin, and on Etsy. She was also recently commissioned to complete a public art installation in Austin with a collective called the Pay Phone Revival Project, where she will use elements from both her metal designs and her rubber sculptures to recreate the inside of a gutted, out-of-commission pay phone.

One artpiece consists of raw copper wire soldered and hammered into links to produce a faux tattered neckpiece that conjures up images of the sea. The stack of fused copper rings is antiqued to a teal color. Other techniques, like layering the copper, form shapes that resemble barnacles when assembled and contribute to the uniqueness and beauty of her jewelry.

"Most of my work utilizes a butane or propane torch (for larger pieces), which I use to heat the metal and melt lead-free stick silver solder to hold forms and copper links together,” she reveals. “I build forms by soldering wires, copper sheets and domed surfaces into one piece, turning simple patterns and materials into wearable art. My most recent adventure has been cutting unique contours out of copper sheet to produce personalized cuffs. The relief patterns on the surface of my metal cuffs are etched electrically using a volt regulator and various chemical solutions. Torch oxidation creates different finishes and home made chemical solutions produce colorful patinas.”

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