Copper in the Arts

September 2011

Elizabeth Emison Metalworks: "Life Is Short, Buy The Shoes"

By Nancy Ballou

Elizabeth Emison in her studio. Elizabeth Emison in her studio.

Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Emison
Born in Minnesota, with a BA in Anthropology from Montana State University, Elizabeth (Betsy) Emison led an adventurous life as a shark/Antarctic diver until a frightening health event ended her exciting career. After settling in the Pacific Northwest, she enrolled in an art welding class in Townsend, Washington, where she came under the tutelage of Walter Massey and discovered the beauty of creating with copper.

"Copper is so malleable and easy to work with," Emison says. "It has more personality than any other metal. It changes color. I chose copper because, when heated, it behaves like paper. You can make anything from it."

Emison's studio in Poulsbo, Washington consists of a 1,200-square-foot barn where she can produce both large and small scale work.

"I have more tools in my studio than most men own, including small to large welding torches, bandsaws and plasma cutters," she admits. Everything she makes utilizes recycled copper. "When the gutters from my dad's house in Minnesota fell following a snowstorm, I had him send the heavy-gauge copper to me. Then, a local storm in Washington rendered 16-gauge copper. I also buy small pieces from scrap metal yards and copper wire on rolls. Sometimes I scrape the rubber off of tubing to get copper wire. I make my bamboo designs out of pipe."

Emison explains what led to her signature, copper shoe pieces.

confetti Confetti, copper sculpture.

Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Emison

"I love nature and I love shoes," she says. "One day, while looking through magazines, I got the idea to make artistic copper high-heels. Something uniquely me. I drew a sole pattern on paper and made the lines as sexy as I could. I cut out copper soles with my bandsaw and brazed on copper leaves and other objects from nature. The beginning ones were not that great, but I kept working and improving. The feedback was awesome. Clients began requesting shoes with customized designs and patinas to match their decor or to give as gifts. Sometimes, I use a chemical kit of water consistency and paint the colors on. This allows the copper to retain its transparency. For deeper colors, I use a torch to get varieties like red, brown, gold and green. Purple and green seem to be the most popular choices. I have a four-foot shoe pattern for garden pieces that can be stabilized for placement of a pot or as a table base. And I'm starting work on a boot pattern with added glass. The time each project takes depends on the complexity of the design."

Emison's beautiful, artistic shoe creations make unique paperweights or excellent centerpieces with votive candles. Very tiny lights can give the shoe a festive feeling. She uses her own bras as patterns to cut out copper bras for door and wall hangings. She's currently working on copper-clad journals with lots of roses and tulips but can make anything copper from a picture or a good description. Her great blue heron sculpture sold recently and a copper bowl fountain can be seen in a doctor's office on Bainbridge. Her one-of-a-kind creations are whimsical, fun and capture the spirit of her motto "Life is short, buy the shoes."

Last winter, Emison's artwork was chosen by a steering committee of three jurors to exhibit at the Bainbridge Studio Tour. Earlier this year, she participated in Art on Main Street in St. Helena, California. Her pieces can be found at various galleries in St. Helena, San Francisco, Sun Valley and in the Hawaiian Islands.


Elizabeth Emison Metalworks, 24847 Big Valley Rd., Poulsbo, WA, (360) 394-1500

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