Copper in the Arts

March 2012

A Reverence for Copper and the Slower Melt of Time

By Jennifer Hetrick

Copper wall clock This large wall clock incorporates dark and light stains on cherry wood with the face and pendulum bringing in hand-colored copper portions.

Photograph courtesy of Leonie Lacouette

To Leonie Lacouette, time is not about rushing through the fast paced world of today. Instead, she focuses on appreciating every moment with each copper clock she builds.

Although she originally worked in clay, inspiration for her now iconic and nationally recognized pieces struck Lacouette a few decades ago when she realized she needed a clock in her old studio. And so her unexpected penchant for clock making began.

Over the past 20 years, Lacouette has earned her title as a well-known clockmaker in Ulster County, New York and beyond. She creates handmade clocks in her signature copper style with the scenic Shawangunk Ridge as her backdrop of inspiration.

Walking the line between form and function, Lacouette’s philosophy of time can be seen in each handcrafted piece.

“Most of my clocks don’t have numbers on them,” Lacouette says. “They are barely there to tell us what time it is. The other crazy irony is that I’m always late.”

The absence of numbers on the flat faces of her work is intentional because Lacouette never wants time to control or define her life, so she says she hopes those who buy her clocks are reminded of this dying value, too.

To her, digital clocks of today remind her of how they often tend to make us feel more driven and directed by time.

“And I make clocks that are more like art that become clocks,” Lacouette says, separating herself by definition from those who locate antique clocks, with old gears, fixing and repairing them.

Copper wall clock The oval face and round pendulum of this narrow wall clock are hand-colored copper.

Photograph courtesy of Leonie Lacouette

“The movements I’m using are modern,” she says about their inner-functioning parts.

Her pendulums are purely decorative and run independently from the mechanisms. Lacouette prefers a slower pace with her pendulums, in line with how as a clockmaker and a person, she doesn’t believe in letting life be determined so exclusively by time.

Circles, squares, ovals and rectangles make a name for themselves very powerfully in the structures of her clocks—with the language of shapes as something Lacouette has come to admire richly, over the years.

The minimalism and limited colors in her clocks pair together as factors which end up creating a visual pulse that pulls with unparalleled strength at the senses, especially drawing in long-held glances for studying the lure of the handcrafted efforts from the mind of their maker.

Her clocks are all silent, with the proverbial tick tock sounds missing in her work space. This is largely because all clocks are tested before shipping, with often 20 at a time whirring quietly in the background. She and her staffers call themselves the clock factory, with three people usually handling the testing, each week. Lacouette admits that anything but stillness would be disruptive to her laboring and her mood, too, if the ordinary noises associated with most clocks were beckoning at her all day long.

Known around the region and introduced at parties as “Leonie the Clockmaker,” she jokes about her moniker, “Literally, I almost don’t have a last name anymore.”

Usually one to not know what time it is, Lacouette admits fondly that she’s a tinkerer. “I like taking things apart as much as I like putting them together,” she says.

With an early start in clay, an eventual delve into mixed media made Lacouette think about bringing metals into her clocks, and she began sourcing her copper from PC boards in computers through P&T Surplus in Kingston, New York.

Copper wall clock This richly copper-made clock illustrates Leonie Lacouette's penchant for the warmth of the metal in connection with the slower appreciation of time.

Photograph courtesy of Leonie Lacouette

“But suddenly, I’d need 25 of them, and P&T Surplus only had 10,” Lacouette says about when her demand for more copper grew, as her clock making efforts took on more recognition and admiration from outsiders.

This led Lacouette to turn to Dutchess Metal Supply Corporation in Poughkeepsie for her stock of copper sheets.

Today, Lacouette paints a faux-finish on the wooden sections of her clocks, and treats her copper portions in a chemical bath (the ingredient list and approach are a secret recipe).

For Lacouette, it’s hard to name exactly when copper began to overshadow her other materials in the clocks she builds.

“Copper is the most predominant feature, but I’m still using wood and steel,” she says. “But there’s copper in so much of the work.”

One of the more challenging details about her work, is trying to keep clean, geometric lines.

“Copper has a memory,” Lacouette says. “It does not want to go from bent back to flat. It also gives you a finish like none other and has a beauty that’s unbelievable. The look of it—there’s just no other metal that does what I want, so I use copper.”

Lacouette treats each clock as a work of art.

“I’m using it almost as a functioning canvas,” she says. “The finishes are so warm and beautiful. I’m not really manipulating the copper. I am much more of a painterly artist, doing almost two-dimensional work with copper even though my pieces are three-dimensional. For me, copper is more of a surface for me to treat.”

Although she uses wood and steel in her work, Lacouette relies on copper to balance out her work, and add a timeless elegance.

“I don’t want the clocks to be completely cold with steel, yet I want to be modern, and the addition of copper kind of adds warmth and keeps it more natural,” she says about the appearance of her clocks that are more copper-persuaded.

Copper wall clocks Hand-colored copper behind the cutouts in these square sets of black-painted wood, with two decorative side panels to complement the clock portion, easily exemplify Leonie Lacouette's honed style.

Photograph courtesy of Leonie Lacouette

Her clocks have perched inside of more than 100 galleries across the country. In fact, they’re for sale in storefronts in 39 states and also the Virgin Islands.

She estimates that she’s made thousands upon thousands of clocks since the early days of her profession and artistry, now selling more than 1,200 per year as demand grew.

In her home, she has at least 10 of her own clocks —with one of them in her walk-in closet!

Mostly recently, Lacouette had her clocks on display at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore in late February. She's been a part of the show probably 20 times in a 30-year span.

The Buyers Market of American Craft in Philadelphia, along with the American Craft Council Show, has perpetuated the relationships that have helped her to find galleries throughout the country to carry her clocks.

PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill is just one of the more famed individuals who has purchased one of Lacouette’s handmade clocks, too.

“I love that I give people pleasure through my clocks—beautiful things in their homes,” she concludes. “They’re such conversation pieces, and I get a lot of satisfaction from other people’s satisfaction with the work.”

Resources:

Leonie Lacouette, P.O. Box 175, Gardiner, NY 12525, (845) 255-3762

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