Copper in the Arts

June 2016

Form Meets Function: Caldwell Mountain Copper

By Nancy Ballou

Caldwell Mountain Copper worker Elliot.Caldwell Mountain Copper worker Elliot with a series of finished copper pieces.
Photograph courtesy of Porter Caldwell

As a young boy, Porter Caldwell was fascinated with how things were put together. He spent hours tinkering with metal and other materials that he discovered in his father’s sawmill repair shop.

Over the years, Caldwell has been an electrician, plumber and contractor among other vocations. Without any formal training in metalsmithing, he learned through trial and error, and read extensively about working with copper. He quickly developed a deep appreciation for the metal.

“At first, making the copper vessels was a hobby,” says his wife, Faye. “We attended arts and crafts shows and took orders. Then, in 2007, we officially became a company, Caldwell Mountain Copper. We conduct our business out of a studio in the basement of our home. We work together on design styles, sizes and proportions. Until recently, I helped with the welding, turning edges and engraving. My specialty was hammering and shaping the bowls. Porter is very talented. He invented a mechanical stirrer for a kettle that his family had when he was a teenager using an electric motor, bicycle wheel and other objects. We now have one full time and three part time employees.

They purchase flat sheets of copper locally from N.B. Handy.

A collection of Caldwell mountain copper pieces.A collection of Caldwell Mountain Copper pieces.
Photograph courtesy of Porter Caldwell. 

“If we need larger, heavier pieces to complete a customer’s request for a thicker bottom or such, we will order from out-of-state, she says. “Kettles are created with dovetailed seams, hammered and welded with silver solder. Folded interlocking pieces in a variety of shapes and sizes create buckets, coffee and chocolate pots, syrup pitchers and tea kettles. They are often styled from those in the 1700s, with and without lids. Once the products are finished, they are cleaned and hand polished.”

Caldwell has adapted specialty pieces from books printed in the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s. Wash boilers originated before the turn of the 20th Century. Their watertight buckets are made using a 150-year-old style, featuring flat side seams and hand-hammered bottoms.

Apple butter kettles, jelly kettles and popcorn kettles are completely food safe, but the Caldwells suggest that food should not be left inside after cooking. They note that any tarnish can be removed with Wright’s Copper Cleaner.

“Our apple butter kettles remain our most popular items,” she says.”In 2015, we were a Martha Stewart American Made Awards Housekeeping nominee. We were very pleased when the local Chamber of Commerce wrote about our company in ‘Botetourt,' their annual magazine.”

Resources:

Caldwell Mountain Copper, 2391 Lees Gap Rd., Fincastle, VA, (540) 473-2167

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