Copper in the Arts

June 2012

Love at First Weld

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

Copper chicken Copper Chicken Sculpture

Photograph courtesy of Catherine Murphy

Whimsy meets nature at Haw Creek Forge, Catherine Murphy's sculpture studio nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Catherine says the affinity for the subjects of her sculptures stems from her youth.

"It comes from way back from not being able to sit still in school. The first school project I could ever identify with was my insect collection."

Today, Catherine's copper sculptures echo her love of the outdoors. Her subjects frequently feature a wren perched on a branch, a poised praying mantis and a frog lounging on a lily pad.

After dropping out of college in 1975, Catherine, now 56, was introduced to welding when she worked at a factory for a janitorial company for eight years. Afterwards, she traveled the Southeast for another eight years as a construction welder and ironworker.

With some of her history also invested in welding supply sales, she had her first introduction to copper while on the job.

It was love at first weld.

"When I put my torch to that copper and saw all of those colors I knew I found the material I wanted to work with."

She especially loves copper's malleable nature.

Copper Bird Bird on a Nest

Photograph courtesy of Catherine Murphy

"I started out in blacksmithing but it is not at all forgiving and I didn't want to work that hard," she explains. "Steel doesn't respond the way that copper does. It is very claylike -- you can go far with it and still go back."

This new love enabled her to hone in on her craft. At age 35 she took her first formal art class, centered on copper, at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.

"From that class I started making things for my own garden," Catherine says.

While simultaneously working in sales, she would take advantage of visiting gardens and nurseries on her travels, to show them the copper pieces she was making.

"I sold 600 in one weekend," she recalls. "Eight months later, I gave up sales."

While garden sculptures make up the majority of her collection and are the most widely produced pieces in her studio, she creates some functional works of art such as decorative jewelry racks and hummingbird feeders.

Haw Creek makes a concerted effort to use local materials and hire local artisans in order to support small businesses in Asheville.

"All of our wire sheet and tubing is bought from local distributors," says Margy, referring to Best Distributing, and C.C. Dickson Co., both with branches in Asheville.

For the last ten years the business has operated in a 5,000 square foot studio, housed in an old, restored, textile mill. Prior to that, Catherine operated the business out of her home in Haw Creek, NC, which inspired the name of the business.

The studio is equipped with power hammers, a bending brake, and hydraulic die forming press, rolling mill, four welding stations and a paint booth.

"Some pieces are cut out with a water jet, a few are stamped out, but everything else is formed, pressed, welded and made here," says Margy.

Haw Creek's studio is open to visitors. "We like to show work in progress," she says.

Resources:

Haw Creek Forge, 2000 Riverside Dr., Studio Six, Asheville, NC, (828) 285-9785

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