Copper in the Arts

April 2015

Sio Metalworks: Modern Copper Works Inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement

By Robyn Jasko

Carson Sio handhammered copper mugs. Carson Sio handhammered copper mugs.

Carson Sio's signature handhammered copper works and are making their mark in the Philadelphia artworld and beyond.

His love for metalwork began as he was earning an Industrial Design degree from the University of the Arts.

"I have always had an interest in art and engineering, though it took me some time to fully realize my craft potential," he says. "I come from a long line of artists and craftsmen, and have actively pursued an art education for myself."

Sio earned a BS in Industrial Design from the University of the Arts, and attended the Haystack Mountain Craft School for a summer program.

While working on a degree at the University of the Arts, he was drawn to craft department and took multiple elective courses in metalsmithing and casting. After college and a summer course at Haystack, he made the decision to start building a studio and developing his skills and techniques.

Although he is currently working at another job during the day, he sees the potential to transition to a full-time artist in the future.

He began making Moscow Mule mugs, the signature craft cocktail served in a copper mug, at the request of a friend.

"I had been doing a lot of raising work at the time and was asked if I made Moscow Mule mugs by an acquaintance," Sio recalls. "I hadn't done anything quite like that but figured I could probably handle it. I am always looking for projects that push my knowledge and skills into new territories, as well as requiring me to increase my inventory of tools. Once you have to buy or make a specific tool like a hammer or stake for a project, you are always going to have that tool and it increases your range of forms or techniques you are capable of.

Handhammered copper lamp, by Carson Sio.Handhammered copper lamp, by Carson Sio.

His process begins with a flat disc of copper sheet, usually 18 or 20 gauge, which he purchases almost exclusively from Hagstoz in Philadelphia, and occasionally from Metalliferous in NYC or Rio Grande. He then takes the sheet through a process called raising to make a volumetric form, repeatedly hammering the disk over a metal form called a stake, to create a sort of wrinkle. He then pushes this out to the edge, slowly forcing the metal at the edges to contract and thicken.

"It is a very slow and laborious process but gives the smith almost total control over what is happening with the metal," he says. "I am mostly self-taught, and I have learned most of what I know by just diving in head first and trying to figure it out for myself. That means my earliest work is very simple and sophomoric in my eyes. Also as I went on and did more and more research into the field of metalsmithing, I found more and more artists that had a similar aesthetic to what I was working to. It turns out the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century was responding to the same dichotomy between handmade and mass produced products that had inspired me to start my work. And whether consciously or subconsciously I had even arrived at the same style of somewhat rough textures, intentional hammer marks, and other direct connections between the maker's hand and the product."

Sio was initially drawn to copper because of its affordability.

"I was very interested in practicing all these traditional silversmithing techniques I had been reading about but I couldn't afford to play with sterling silver," says Sio. "Copper has very similar working characteristics and much cheaper (though still not exactly inexpensive), so it became a way for me to learn without breaking the bank and worrying about messing up. Of course it didn't take me long to find the intrinsic beauty of copper, now I work it almost exclusively. Also I have found that I tend to lean more towards the functional aspect of copper goods than the decorative uses of silver finery."

His work is currently on display at the Ritual Ritual Boutique in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia and the BDDW furniture showroom in NYC.

Resources:

Carson Sio, Sio Metalworks, Philadelphia, PA

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