Copper in the Arts

August 2008

Contemporary Furniture Designers Turn to Copper

By Donna Dvorak

copper dining table GI Designs Copper-topped dining table

Photograph courtesy of Tom Ryan

With its durability, natural beauty, and soft reflective qualities, today's furniture artists are choosing copper to brighten up modern décor. Touted as the new wood, copper, brass and bronze furniture designs are gaining in popularity, emerging in showrooms and contemporary homes across the country.

GI Designs, a high-end furniture maker located in Denver, Colorado, produces an impressive line of copper furniture, home decor, and outdoor accents. Owned by President Wayne Lewis and Vice President, Gregg Isabel, GI Designs uses recycled copper for most of their pieces, including the popular Dexter Wood Pedestal dining table, where customers can choose their own hand hammered copper patina tabletops.

"Most of our copper furniture is created from recycled copper, so we don't use just one source, we have many sources," explains Tom Ryan, Office Manager. "Copper is really indestructible and one of the softest metals that evolve into a beautiful patina. Plus, the weather and air act as a protectant. It will never rust or disintegrate. Industrial grade is used for plumbing and other jobs, but we've streamlined our work to a hand hammered rustic patina with a heat applied process. The copper is wrapped around the tabletop so seams aren't visible, then it's made super cold so the burn marks appear. Since copper reacts to the elements differently, each one becomes unique. Our clients consist of designers, restaurant owners, and the general public who tend to be higher end, but we have something for everyone. Sometimes people order four tables for a parade of homes, but the main ingredient is that they all enjoy the beauty of copper."

Copper mirrors Copper mirrors by GI Designs

Photograph courtesy of Tom Ryan

According to Ryan when it comes to cleaning, copper requires a bit more care, but the main fact is not to use any acid base cleaners on it. They apply a paste wax finish on the top to make cleaning easier for their customers to keep the shine and patina.

"We have a facility in Little Rock, Arkansas, and all copper tops and bases can be intertwined - meaning that people can order just a top or base - or we can customize tables to a specific room size," says Ryan. "We begin with a wrought iron base in four custom colors - black, rust, pewter and antique white, and wrap the copper around it. We usually have a six to eight week waiting time for custom orders, or a four week delivery with our standard tables. We just had a customer order 45 different sizes of outside plant holders because copper, unlike any other metal, lasts forever and doesn't rust. All of our work is created either by us or our artists located in the United States, including the Oregon Copper Bowl Company and Susan Hebert designs."

Oregon Copper Bowl Company, owned by Lance Hull the founder and President has been in business for more than ten years. Its inception began when he designed a bamboo fountain for his garden and a copper bowl. A friend suggested that he use his expertise and consider making copper sinks, which he did, as well as fountains. He now offers a wide selection of unique pieces handcrafted in America, which they pride themselves on.

"I tend to look at what we do as crafting," says Hull. "I'm a bit of everything, artist, business owner, craftsperson, but I create some unique pieces in fountains, electrical wall plates as well as sinks---those are our specialty. They're high end, hand crafted copper, brass and plated metal like nickel. We sell to more than 600 displaying dealers across the United States and Canada. We also create countertops, stove hoods and more. We polish each piece to a mirror polish before we ever hammer it. We purchase copper from all sources in the United States and all of our copper and brass is certified - it arrives with a paper that attests that it's pure copper with no lead or anything else hiding in there."

Fisher Forge Utensils Set of copper kitchen tools by Fisher Forge, recently featured in Martha Stewart Living Magazine

Photograph by Paul David

Their electrical wall plates are made out of every configuration and in the same finishes as their sinks. Customers can obtain heavy weight wall plates in hammered antique copper or polished gold as well as Baptismal Fountains. Oregon Copper Bowl Company also creates cognac style alembic copper stills for making high-end brandy, but these are for commercial use. "We just make the still," quips Hill.

Fisher Forge originated in 1992, when David Fisher created a fireplace crane for his walk-in fireplace while restoring his farmhouse.

"A fireplace crane is the huge arm that people used to swing in and out of a fireplace to hang things, like a copper kettle or pots, over the fire," says Fisher. "I now create a selection of copper furniture, including accent components like a forged steel piece of furniture or plant stands, low stools, small tables for reading lamps, as well as end and dining tables."

Today, Fisher is Vice President of the Pennsylvania Artist Blacksmith Association, a member of the Artist Blacksmith's Association of North America, juried member of Pennsylvania and Reading/Berks Guild of Craftsmen, and member of the Hamburg Fine Arts Hall of Fame.

Fisher Forge Gates Forged gates by Fisher Forge featuring copper accents

detail of copper gatesDetail of copper flowers

Photographs courtesy of David Fisher

Fisher's architectural items, including his array of balconies and railings, are sold directly to design companies, homeowners and contractors, and every piece, including his fireplace screens and tools, is custom made.

"I purchase my copper through regular supply houses like Vincent Metals in Pennsylvania, and pick up copper from people who deal with overstock," says Fisher. "I once made a stand for a carousel horse, and I still create swan sleds, which are forged steel frames with wood in the middle. It's a great holiday item. A lady once wanted an orchid stand. She loves orchids and wanted them to grow in her dining room. I created a forged steel stand with a copper planter box."

Fisher finds his inspiration from many sources----sometimes, he works directly with interior designers to produce a piece they have designed. Oftentimes, the design is a concept piece designed between him and the homeowner.

"I also create a selection of kitchen items like kitchen or butcher utensils with brass, copper or steel bowls, pot racks and trivets" he adds. "I demonstrate my work at local venues, which is my way of supporting the community. I sell my pieces primarily through my shop in Hamburg, PA, and have a studio that's a separate building from my home."

Another popular piece of décor emerging in contemporary homes across the country are brass and copper weathervanes and lanterns. DeWolf Lighting, located in Enumclaw, WA at the base of Mt. Rainier, designs these unique copper accents, all handcrafted in the United States by master coppersmiths in New England. For a different spin on a weathervane, they offer a solid copper angel - Gabriel - that includes a steel rod, copper points and copper ball, as well as a Clipper Ship, golfer, witch, horse and deer.

"We purchase our copper from Cambridge Street Metal, in Massachusetts," says Renee deWolf, owner. "The angel Gabriel is made from the pattern of an existing old weathervane, which was molded in 1964 by the late copper artist Bud Tinkham, who resided in New England. It's one of our most popular solid copper weathervanes and people place them in their gardens or homes, not just on a roof. The Clipper Ship was also hand done by the late Bud Tinkham, and now his son, artist David Tinkham, makes all of the steel molds. The Smuggler and Blackhawk (two of the horses) were reconstructed from other existing weathervanes."

According to deWolf, it takes many steps to create a handmade weathervane. First, the design is drawn on paper, and then transferred to copper. Clay is placed on top of the copper, and then a molding plaster is put on that. They move the clay and the actual piece, and the piece is sent to a steel foundry for the final mold, which is usually ready in a month.

"Our weathervanes are hand-hammered using 16 oz. soft copper and are guaranteed for 100 years," she explains. "All of my pieces will greatly enhance your home, barn, outbuilding or garden and are of the very highest quality."

Whatever your style, shed some new light on your home's décor with the beauty of copper. These beautifully crafted copper furniture pieces add a timeless elegance to any home, and are perfect for passing down through the generations.


David Fisher discusses and demonstrates working with copper, brass and bronze at Fisher Forge.

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