Copper in the Arts

December 2019

Sculptor Kevin Jenkins and His Serendipitous Road to Copper

By Lisa Scheid

Kevin Jenkins’ copper sculptures can be found in casinos, resorts, museums and thousands of homes around the world from his state of Florida to the Bahamas and Singapore.

Fish.jpg
Copper fish sculpture by Kevin Jenkins. 
Photo courtesy of Kevin Jenkins. 

“Over 16 countries and counting and still love it,” Jenkins remarks on his blog coppersculpture.com, where he shares insights from his travels and process with fans and customers. 

Jenkins is most well known for his vibrant big fish but the Homosassa, Florida sculptor’s work spans the breadth of coastal life from a tribute to the fishing families of Florida to pelicans in flight. His career spans several decades as he’s created functional pieces such as railings and tables as well as attention-commanding decorative fish.

As the economy has grown, especially near coastal areas, interest in Jenkins work has also increased, he said.

“Showing mostly in coastal or near coastal areas, using the color tones inherent in copper, my work is center pieces in many homes and companies, “ he said. “”I think of it as house jewelry.” 

Jenkins has been drawn to copper since he was a teenager.

“I think copper, with its warm color and durability and perceived high value and coupled with the range of patinas, lends itself to visual art like no other metal can,” Jenkins said. 

At 19, his father arranged for him to work in the metal-working and tourist mecca of Taxco de Alarco in south-central Mexico. The city is associated with silver mining and other metals. 

He worked in the studio of master Antonio Castillo, which excelled in married metals, the inlay of many different metals in silver filigree framework. Working his way up from blacksmithing, he learned Mayan and Aztec design and inlay. 

“As I worked as an apprentice silver was $48 a kilo and I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “So I worked in copper mostly. Much of what I was working on was Aztec design jewelry, which I always thought of as study models for larger pieces maybe sculpture.” 

He was assigned to Guadalupe Canalez who sat next to me. He was a master metalsmith who gave me assignments to complete and he gave me instructions. 

“I really liked Mr. Castillo,” Jenkins said. “He frequently invited me to his home and I would drive 90 miles to Mexico City. Mexico wasn’t as dangerous as it is today but you still had to be extra careful being a 6’5” American kid.”

Eventually, he followed his passion north to Santa Clara Del Cobre where he learned from traditional copper artisans who melt and mold copper, which proved to be yet another invaluable education in the historic way of making copper art, Jenkins said. It became the foundation for a career spanning 50 years.

“My basic technique working in copper has not changed but has been refined and has grown into the look my work has,” Jenkins said. “Clean lines and smooth curves that take the basic shapes of a particular subject to create a pleasing look.”

The coloration comes from an oxidation from overheating the metal and releasing the alloys that come to the surface at the end of the process. The pieces are clear coated with Incralac to prevent a patina from developing.  Incralac is a lacquer with ultraviolet inhibitors and co-polymers (stretching agents). It is sprayed on in two coats.

And, he’s not done yet. He continues to learn, travel and show his pieces. He mentors other copper sculptors from his studio and gallery. So what still challenges the master?

“Creating an eight foot long three dimensional bluefin tuna still challenges me,” he said.

Resources:

Kevin JenkinsHomosassa, FL, (352) 634-4223

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