Copper in the Arts

July 2011

Mapping Out a Career: The Copper Maps of Copper Leaf Studios

By Michael Cervin

copper map Copper Map, by Copperleaf Studios

Photograph courtesy of Chris Zielski

Working out of her Cleveland, Ohio studio, Chris Zielski has a map in front of her, as if she's plotting some grand course; in a sense she is. In addition to other artistic endeavors, she makes custom copper maps. Zielski received her BS and MA degrees in Art Education from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, then taught art for eight years until 2010, finally deciding to commit full-time as an artist.

"Once you start to produce a lot of work and generate ideas, the more you immerse yourself in it, the more you get a finished product," she says of finding inspiration by keeping busy. She started doing copper maps when a local non-profit, the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, held a symposium to explore live/work housing for local artists. They commissioned her to create something inspired by the Ohio area, something the various speakers could take with them. She created a large copper map consisting of 20 separate pieces of the Great Lakes region. The individual pieces were then broken out and given out as 20 different gifts. That started her thinking about a sense of place and how maps provide connection to people.

"Copper is the 7th wedding anniversary so people buy a map related to where they got married, or something that is marking a specific event," she says. And her copper maps are selling to buyers across the globe.

West Coast copper map West Coast copper map, by Copperleaf Studios

Photograph courtesy of Chris Zielski

"I treat my copper maps more like a painting," she admits. She uses wood as a substrate then applies 18 gauge copper sheet over it; utilizing a heavy-duty glue to affix the copper to the wood. She compares her copper maps to her textile and collage work, both of which she has used in the past. "There are geometric undertones with organic sensibilities. Copper fits that need, it has a clean, crisp look to it and I ended up falling in love with it," she admits. She etches the copper creating texture by soaking the cut copper pieces in a light acid bath for three to four hours. And Zielski creates her own patinas, usually heat- based ones, and in fact she utilizes her gas stove rather than an acetylene torch.

"I like it better, it's a lower temperature and I can control the colors better," she says. "The warm copper tones have just a little bit of extra color when I use slow controlled, low temperatures." She then uses either lacquer or an enamel coating to finish her pieces.

"There is a huge demand for art that represents our city," she says. To that end she has been working on what she calls her Cleveland Series, skylines, art deco structures and other notable and emblematic images from the region. "People just love the look of copper. It's got something deeper than a painting," she muses. She is seeing a shift towards two dimensional work; art which has depth to it with more layering as in collage or metal work.

Her permanent Ohio collections include pieces in the national headquarters of both NextHome Realty, and Dollar Bank. Her copper work can also be seen at Juma Gallery in Cleveland as well regional arts shows.


Copper Leaf Studios, Cleveland, OH, (216) 212-7228

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