Copper in the Arts

November 2012

Metal Jewelry with a Sensuous Richness that Longs to Be Touched

By Nancy Ballou

Brooch object Copper brooch object 1.

Photograph courtesy of Emanuela Aureli

As a young girl, Emanuela Aureli helped her grandfather do repairs around the house and became fascinated when he would strip old electrical wire to fix lamps or other gadgets.

“The copper wire appealed to me because of its colors and softness,” she recalls. “I still have the rusted German-made wire cutter he used."  

Since then, she begun creating her own line of intricately weaved copper wire out of her studio in Santa Fe, NM.

"I began with a pair of round-nose pliers, brass and copper wire, beads, feathers and sold my earrings at flea markets, concerts and street fairs throughout Europe,” she says. “Over the years, I've accumulated copper wire of assorted gauges, various thicknesses of copper sheet metal and numerous boxes of scrap. People have gifted me with rolls of tubing and other useful copper. I sometimes purchase from industrial supply/recycle stores or Rio Grande in Albuquerque. I still have two pounds of 99.99% electrolytic copper shots from years ago that I use to melt my own alloys. With manual rolling mills and a draw bench, I roll my metal to sheet and pull it to wire or tubing. I have several draw plates with round, square and triangular profiles," she reports.

Having learned her craft from street artisans and her own mistakes, Aureli also apprenticed with goldsmiths in Italy, the U.S., and holds a BFA from CCA in Oakland, CA. In her Santa Fe studio, she fabricates cubes, spheres, strips of metal and coils of wire into earrings, rings, pendants or brooches. Her background enables her to blend traditional metalsmithing with Northern European design. Inspired by simple, geometric shapes, urban/industrial landscapes and the quiet expanse of high desert, she creates jewelry containing moving parts that encourage wearers to engage in playful interaction.

One unique feature of Aureli's work is her penchant for hands-on techniques. Besides producing her own alloys, she experiments with colorful yellow, orange and deep red patinas, infusing a warmth that is irresistible to touch.

Copper Ring Copper ring for gesticulating hands.

Photograph courtesy of Emanuela Aureli

"I use a propane-only hand torch, making sure the copper is completely clean and dry before starting, then apply the patina evenly by brushing a small flame over the copper surface,” she says. “Since it only takes a nanosecond for copper to change color, I have to know when to stop in order to achieve the deep orange-reddish color so typical of my work. Occasionally, I finish with a turquoise green patina obtained by repeated application of a red wine vinegar and ammonia solution; beeswax or a water base lacquer are used as preservative. I employ common household products in consideration of future wearers and for a minimal impact on the environment.”

Aureli exhibits her jewelry at several national venues every year, and has created quite a following for her work. At her last Smithsonian Craft Show, in keeping with the tactile quality of her pieces, Aureli welcomed a special tour for the blind. She was delighted when her jewelry sparked big smiles and vocal appreciation from such a special group of visitors.

“For the Triple Martini 2012 show at the IO Gallery in New Orleans this fall, I made an 'adorned' stirring stick for a stainless steel martini glass. It can become a ring or necklace when not in use. I enjoy the challenge of heat coloring the very thin metal to the even orange and red colors I love using a quick, gentle gesture brush with my torch."

Aureli is excited about her future plans, deepening her experimentation with copper.

"I am just now beginning to lighten my work with more organic and fluid shapes. An entire series is in progress using thin sheet metal cut in strips with a pattern-making scissors. I combine copper, silver, gold, brass and absolutely like the feel of these 'feathers' plus the tingling sound the light metal makes.”

Resources:

Emanuela Aureli, Santa Fe, NM, (505) 438-7757

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