Copper in the Arts

February 2010

Arizona Copper: Home of Copper Ken

By Michael Cervin

Copper Ken Design Copper lamps by Arizona Copper

Photograph courtesy of Ken Venisnik

Ken Venisnik's journey to become one of Arizona's most well known copper artists has had its share of twists and turns.

He had taken one art class in college and was adept at shop class in high school, but aside from that, he had no formal training. After college he worked at a brokerage firm by day and waited tables at night, unsure of his future. Things changed when a friend decided to open an art gallery in Carefree, Arizona using saguaro cactus to make lamps, sculptures and furniture. So Venisnik left the brokerage firm and worked alongside his friend. "He did a little work with copper," he says, "like this one table with cactus legs and a copper top. That's where my interest started. I realized copper was cool."

They eventually opened a gallery in Sedona which Venisnik ran for three years. But like all dreams there comes a moment where you realize you need to strike out on your own.

But there was a problem. He'd never really worked with copper nor did he have any tools. He father bought 10 sheets of 30 x 10 copper to get Ken started and he used a few tools that belonged to his grandfather. He set up the Arizona Copper shop in his 950 square foot condo and started to work, starting with an original saguaro and copper top table. "That was literally the first thing I made with copper," he says. Projects started coming in and he began experimenting, developing his own techniques for coloring metal.

"When you find the right elements that interact with copper, the position and structure of the electrons on the copper allow it to accept an oxide with other chemicals," he says. "I just had a talent with coloring metal; no one had ever seen these kinds of colors before.

Copper Ken Design Copper sconces by Arizona copper.

Photograph courtesy of Ken Venisnik.

But it was still trial and error and times were lean. He ended up taking a regular job for about a year to make ends meet, but realized that his dream was being neglected. Within a few months of refocused dedication, he started creating copper sconces which soon became highly sought after.

"It just took off and you couldn't stop it," he says of Arizona Copper's start. The tables were in demand and roughly 50 percent of his business at that time were copper table tops and half was custom work, including fountains, kitchen tops, and commercial applications.

Currently he sources copper from local suppliers like Industrial Metal Supply and Capital Metals, both in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. He then took the idea of the tables, sans legs, and started using the copper sheet an art form in itself, forgoing all the necessary work in building tables. The colors are varied and almost primal, deep hues with an earthen beauty and he is more of a colorist, an area he's worked hard to define. He doesn't use heat unless he needs to anneal something. "I don't like the way you don't have control over the heat," he says. He works with 24 and 32 ounce sheet almost exclusively, but does use 12 ounce and foil for delicate work, due its malleability as the project warrants. Though copper is the main focus, he has also worked with stainless steel, brass, zinc and steel.

Commercial projects in Arizona have included custom work for Camelback Inn Golf Club, Copperwynd Resort, Embassy Suites, and a fountain at Tommy Bahama. Publications like Phoenix Home and Garden, Arizona Republic, and Arizona's Valley Guide have featured his work.

"It's at the point now where if you need something made out of copper, you call copper Ken," he says gratefully. "That's what everyone calls me. I guess my dream really has come true."


Arizona Copper, Ken Venisnik, (480) 970-3730

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