Copper in the Arts

April 2017

Recycling Mixed Metals to Create Beautiful, Unique Artwork

By Nancy Ballou

chair-1.jpgChair, by Rochelle Ford.

Photograph courtesy of Rochelle Ford.

At age 58, Rochelle Ford left her job as executive director of an international non-profit organization to achieve her goal of becoming an artist.

“I taught myself to weld using an oxyacetylene torch to transform recycled metal into art. The flame reaches 6300-degrees of heat to sculpt metal. I’ve never taken an art class and am self taught. At first, I experimented by burning holes in old cans until I learned how to use my new equipment, then quickly progressed to creating large sculptures. Mine is the art of forging the exceptional out of the commonplace. What society discards, I delight in giving new life. My mother had an upscale second-hand clothing store. My father was an automobile dealer whose passion was taking old cars people traded in for new ones and refurbishing them. I was raised with the concept of business and recycling.”

Today, Ford’s home art studio resides in the historical Professorville area of Palo Alto, California. It’s full of discarded metal and found objects. The multi-colored exterior of her house and her unique yard sculptures attract passersby. Upon request, she provides tours to visitors interested in seeing her indoor works of art. She also makes jewelry out of the leftover scraps from her large sculptures.

“When I first started creating art, I'd go to the city recycling center for scrap metal and to local car repair shops to collect discarded/wrecked auto parts. Now that I'm well known as an artist, metal is frequently dropped off in front of my studio."

Ford does not draw her work out first. Her new designs begin with cutting interesting three-dimensional shapes of metal, then welding them together to complete her vision of what she wants the finished sculpture to look like.

"I see the design in my mind’s eye long before I start cutting and piecing metal together to match that image,” she says.

Ford obtains copper scraps from a landscape designer friend who brings her discards when she redesigns a client’s yard. A contractor who installs copper rain drain systems gives her leftover and damaged pieces from his work sites.

“I love having copper in my designs. Heat changes the metal into beautiful colors and the brass rods I use to fuse pieces together add a golden touch to the unusually colorful copper patinas.”

In Talisman, a mask sculpture, multiple discarded copper circles frame a face made of keys from Ford’s old typewriter. The base of Spacial Concepts was a cake pan. The piece included an antique button the artist’s mother gave her.

Earthscape, an outdoor garden sculpture, balances texture, color and geometry. Ford says, “The outer circle came from our old washing machine and the copper tubing came from the plumber who does repair work in our neighborhood.”

Applying organic and industrial materials (steel, copper, beads, yarn and glass in Starburst) combines elements of sculpture, painting and collage.

“My objective is to create new, sensuous and intriguing objects that arouse emotion, thought, discussion and interaction," she reveals. "The materials I use rarely relate to their original intended purposes. My perception, plus shape and texture of the found metal, influence the final project. Finished sculptures include the familiar from an unfamiliar point of view.”

Ford’s work has appeared in numerous solo, group and two-person shows. Claremont Seminary in Southern California commissioned her to construct their entrance gate when they built their new building. The San Francisco Bay Area’s Links chapter chose her as one of two artists for their Hats of Distinction award. On International Women’s Day, the number one Russian television station acknowledged her work on their show about mature women accomplishing lifelong goals.

Resources:

Rochelle Ford, 1155 Waverly St., Palo Alto, CA, 94301, (650) 321-5299

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