Copper in the Arts

July 2010

Susan Venable Studio:  Ancient to Abstract Constructions

By Nancy Ballou

sue venable copper thread workSilver Silence, Sue Venable

Courtesy of Sue Venable
Native Californian Susan Venable began her career using large looms to weave fabrics like wool and cotton into abstract designs. She discovered the biggest structures were "more comfortable to work with," but the fiber materials available were not long-lasting. Until, she discovered copper.

"From my studies of Pre-Columbian and Peruvian art, I was familiar with copper as one of the earliest and strongest substances dating from ancient times. Attracted by both its real and symbolic strength, I also admired its representation of fire and light," Venable revealed.

While studying with an artist in Barcelona, Spain, Venable was introduced to copper as a weaving material. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from UCLA. At her studio in Santa Barbara, California, she currently uses her knowledge of the metal to make what she prefers to call "abstract constructions."

The process begins with 16-gauge open grids purchased from recyclers in 6' wide by 100' long pieces so creations can be custom woven to size. These back-layer grids are lashed to a tapestry loom and copper wire is attached at every one inch intersection. Leaving an inch of twisted copper wire between grids, Venable then "builds" the piece by adding grids (a minimum of three). She utilizes 19- or 20-gauge copper to form the primary structure and 27-gauge copper tied to the top surface to add luminosity.

"I use a lock wire pliers similar to the kind used by the aircraft industry. It enables me to twist the wire easily. The pliers clamp on to the wire. There is a shaft at the end so the entire tool spins and wraps as wire is pulled through one at a time. I use so many wires and each wire catches the light differently and highlights the copper's reflective quality. The copper feels like thousands of drawn lines and creates a rich, warm, intimate feeling," Venable describes.

Venable buys her copper in 10-pound spools, usually purchasing 500 to 600 pounds at a time from recyclers. She prefers to get the materials before they have gone to salvage. 

Venable’s process of weaving is very time consuming and detailed. The more copper wire that is used, the thicker and more lush the results. 

“For a privately commissioned ocean/sunset view abstract 4' x 13.5', I purchased copper wire that had been dyed sea green, teal and indigo from a distributor in New Jersey and wove it in with the natural wire,” Venable explains. “It took approximately 2 1/2 months to complete.”

Inspired by a 20-story building in New Mexico, Venable recently constructed a shimmering, slanted piece by increasing the length of copper wire between the grids. It will be on display from September 29 to October 27 during her show at California State University, Dominguez Hills Campus.

Venable has produced more than 600 works during her 25-year career. These range from 2' x 2' to 12' x 18'. Her public collections and commissions can be seen in Greece, Turkey, Australia, France, Japan, Singapore and throughout the United States.


Susan Venable Studio, 2323 Foothill Lane, Santa Barbara, CA, (805) 884-4963

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