Copper in the Arts

April 2014

Ildanach: Handmade Wearable Art Forged with Spirit And Character

By Nancy Ballou

Ildanach Copper JewelryIldanach Copper Jewelry

After earning a BA in 1985, Curtis Rowland pursued classical training in metalsmithing. Inspired by the people, forests and mountains he loves, he and his wife Sheron built a timber and strawbale studio nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just outside Loveland, CO. Named Ildanach (meaning all craftsmen in Gaelic) Studios, their philosophy is materials are the voices, the artist is creativity and the wearers stand for expression.

"Metals first caught my attention because of the ability to exist in almost all elemental forms - solid and earthy, molten as an offspring of fire and air, fluid when at their flow temperature as water. Our current line was launched when my wife was asked where she obtained a copper bracelet I had made for her and that she wore constantly. People requested matching earrings and necklaces so the jewelry has been evolving ever since."

Rowland prefers to use reclaimed or recycled materials for his handcrafted art.

"Copper is a metal full of character,” he says. “As an artist, I work in copper because it lends itself so well to works whose final stage is on the human form. To many cultures, it is the metal of the body. Our recycled copper comes mostly from local plumbers, electricians and roofing specialists. Despite rising metal costs and growing copper theft, approximately 20% of the unused and salvage metal still makes it to landfills instead of recycling plants which are a good source for repurposed copper. We try to work closely with local professionals to prevent the copper from reaching the landfills."

He hand carves his master in a special type of wax and creates an impression in oiled sand. He removes the master from the mold and melts chunks of bronze, then cleans the metal by pulling away impurities with a special graphite rod. He pours the molten metal into the mold quickly so it flows into the void created by the master. After it cools, he strikes apart the mold casts. It requires judgement, skill and attention to details.

Handcrafted Ildanach Copper JewelryHandcrafted Ildanach Copper Jewelry

Photo Courtesy of Ken Jensen

Most of Rowland's work is done through a technique he created. "I developed Reticulated Fusion as a means of joining non-ferrous metals without solder. Silver becomes the bonding agent and is allowed to remain in its solid state while reticulating. Copper and sterling are brought to just below melting temperature at the same time. The silver is taken to flow temperature and all parts fuse. As the silver cools slightly faster, the surface tension in conjunction with the thermal mass of the copper generally causes a more intense reticulation than normal. I have open-sourced the process because I enjoy seeing how other artists use it in their work."

Plessblech (or pressed block metalsmithing) utilizes a hard die like bronze with a design that is impressed into it by a thinner, softer metal like copper. "It is an endlessly fascinating technique. We have refined and defined it over the years and have found many historical artifacts were created through this 1600+-year-old method. Though we use our new press for some heavy lifting projects, we still hand-strike the majority of our Plessblech works. The handcrafting aspects lend themselves to greater varieties which continue to this day," Rowland explains.

Their unique line is available in more than 200 stores across the USA and Europe. The studio participates in Loveland Art Studio Tour the second and third weekends of October and is then open for tours and demonstrations. They also take on a limited run of custom work throughout the year.


Ildanach Studios, 6811 W. County Road 20, Loveland, CO, (970) 669-3835

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