Copper in the Arts

December 2013

Harold Monk: Sculptor of Sophisticated Metal Art

By Nancy Ballou

Mixed metal sculpture, by Harold Monk.Mixed metal sculpture, by Harold Monk.

In the 1960s, while working in the science department at Bethlehem Steel, Harold Monk learned how to weld old barn nails to wall pieces in a criss cross manner. He had access to torches, electricity and a huge variety of tools. "I visited art shows, museums, exhibitions and thought, 'I could do that'. After designing at my job for more than 3 years, I finally quit and began working at home. Listening to music and sitting back comfortably, I let the visual images flow. When something made me feel good, I thought it might make other people feel good, too. Then, I'd decide how to create it out of metal so that my art could become a level of communication."

He devised a form of wall sculptures that are both sophisticated and complex. According to Monk, "All beauty is mathematically correct. A canyon is beautiful because the wind cuts it. I consider the mathematics of the piece and what will make the entire image work before I begin the actual metal composition. I know just what I have to do and what size I have to make it. The preparation is much more time consuming than the actual construction."

Geometric metal sculpture by Harold Monk.Geometric metal sculpture by Harold Monk.

Monk works in copper, brass and chrome-plated steel. "Copper is easiest to work with and the colors are wonderful. I've purchased large sheets of metal from Apollo Steel, but I prefer to get my solid copper from scrap yards. Old roofing is perfect. An owner of one local scrap yard once said to me that I was a junk man's junk man."

First, Monk cuts out thousands of small pieces from sheet metal. "I use an all brass rolling rod for each tiny piece and work from the center outward. The circles of copper and chrome get bigger like rings of teeth. A melted rim of copper is dripped around the edges and elevates them to create a natural bowl. Then I turn the wall sculpture over and use a rubber mallet to hammer out to the beading so it takes on a convex shape. The copper has a rainbow-color effect. When the metal gets hot enough I angle my acetylene torch across it, sort of like painting with a torch instead of a brush."

Monk's pieces can be found worldwide in locations such as Denmark, China, Tokyo and beyond. His wire figure of a player was made for the Jai Alai Palace in Florida. He sculpted the brass eagle symbol for Harley Davidson with each feather cut out individually. One of his nail creations went to the Cedar Crest College science building in Allentown, PA. More of his artwork can be seen at the Rodale Visitor's Center in Emmaus, PA.

Detail of Harold Monk sculpture.Detail of Harold Monk sculpture.

"Most of my wall sculptures are about 3' across. My two favorites are in my home and will never be sold. One is brass and the other is copper with chrome. In the past, my children have often seen me working on something and would claim it before I even finished, so much of my artwork is with them, too. I make anything from tiny single flowers up to large works like the 12' tree of life at the Jewish Community Center. That has lifetime members' names on leaves that were added regularly to the branches. I still have a large amount of finished important work," says Monk.

His career has been extensive. He is hoping to put together a large pamphlet or maybe a book featuring pictures of his art.

Resources:

Harold Monk, Represented by Wadsworth and Company Antiques and Art, 107 E. Third St., Bethlehem, PA, (610) 866-1577

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