Copper in the Arts

January 2011

Fine Metal Sculpture: High Relief Chasing and Repousse/Copper and Metal Fabrications

By Nancy Ballou

Copper and Steel Sunburst Security Door Copper and Steel Sunburst Security Door.

Photograph courtesy of Debra Montgomery

Ten years ago, while pursuing a career in welding and learning with a local blacksmith/artist, Debra Montgomery was "blown away" by the scope of what could be created through various metal working techniques and knew she wanted to be a part of it. From welding to forging and specializing in repousse and chasing, her plan was to create unusual metal and copper art. Today, from a studio below a home in the foothills east of Fresno, California, Montgomery produces one-of-a-kind art pieces through her company Fine Metal Sculpture. She and her husband design decorative door faces, wall hangings, custom signage, free standing sculptures and whatever commissions clients require. They also fabricate iron railings, gates, custom copper metal range hoods and more through The Metal Shoppe.

Montgomery likes copper more than other non-ferrous metals due to the "extremely malleable properties." The use of heat, variety of chemical patinas and even solvent dyes result in artistic colorations on the copper that enhance her raised designs.

"Although it's still quite a bit more expensive than steel, copper is relatively cheap compared to, say, gold or silver," she says. "My suppliers are close-with one right here in Fresno-so I can obtain the material I need for a commission in a timely manner."

Typically, commissions start with discussion and creation of a concept by Montgomery or the customer. Once an approved sketch is generated, the copper is heated and quenched to anneal or soften it in preparation for forming. The design is transferred to the copper using carbon paper and a permanent marker. At this point in the process, Montgomery places the copper "over a material referred to as chaser's pitch. The pitch I use is one I mix myself - a pine rosin base that softens with low heat. The copper adheres to the pitch, providing a malleable working surface that holds the copper in place but allows movement and shaping of the design. Once the copper is on the pitch, using a variety of liners, punches and a 6 or 8 oz. chasing hammer (depending on the copper's thickness), I begin outlining and pushing the design elements out from the back of the copper. It is then pulled off the pitch, re-annealed and details are refined from the front using the same tools. These steps are repeated a number of times throughout the creative process until the design is complete."

High Relief Chasing and Repousse/Copper High Relief Chasing and Repousse/Copper.

Photograph courtesy of Debra Montgomery

Montgomery's copper metal fabrications are authentic, hand-crafted, hammered by hand with various punches to specifications displaying a variety of detail. Her work adapts to many design categories, including Art Nouveau, Victorian and the more industrialized twist on Victorian - Steampunk. Her pieces vary in size from 6" x 6" copper tiles to her custom commission of "The Weeping Virgin," a 3' x 4' wall hanging at the Fresno Masonic Lodge using 32 oz. copper sheet framed in iron. The piece had to be created in sections due to its size and used hand-held punches, liners and hammers, including an air hammer with a modified chisel. It took more than 180 hours to complete.

Montgomery is a member of "Creative Fresno," a group engaging creative professionals to create a stronger community and quality sense of space. Works such as "Maple Leaf Study," a copper and steel wall hanging, have appeared in juried art shows and exhibitions during the last few years. She will be teaching "Beginning Repousse Techniques" on Saturday, February 5th and Sunday, February 6th, 2011 at the newly founded Fresno Fire and Metal School of Industrial Arts which emphasizes eco-friendly practices.


Fine Metal Sculpture, P.O. Box 212, Dunlap, CA, (559) 338-0748

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