Copper in the Arts

April 2012

Nothing Fishy: The Copper Work of R. Hanes Hoffman

By Michael Cervin

Crab with Dinner, copper sculpture Crab with Dinner, copper sculpture by Blue Water Copper Works

Photograph Courtesy of R. Hanes Hoffman, Jr.

For R. Hanes Hoffman, based in North Carolina, the idea of a copperhead fish takes on a whole new meaning. Hanes runs Bluewater Copper Works, creating individual hand-crafted, signed and dated solid copper fish.

"I grew up in a very artistic environment, exposed to hand-made art, and was intrigued by the process," he says of his childhood. "I work exclusively in copper. Most of my work is done by hand and with hand tools therefore I need the malleability of copper," he says. His work is three-dimensional, one-sided, bas-relief sculpture of fish. He starts with pre-annealed sheet, then cuts out his image and begins hammering the copper, crafting it into the likeness of a marlin, bass, salmon and other sea creatures. Striving for authenticity while still having an artistic license, he uses neither accelerators nor chemical patinas to affect his work, believing heat alone best expresses the individual fish markings and iridescent colors.

"I use heat induced patina, which I call painting with flame, and the coloration process is where I consider I have a leg up in my art," he says. Certainly in working with flame and heat there is initial trial and error, but after time, Hanes innately knows his copper.

"I have learned to anticipate the color change, and control the flame as copper is extremely conductive," he says. "It's a test of patience every time I pick my torch up. It's all dependent on ambient temperature and humidity, temperature of the host metal, even the gasses you're burning. Every day you have to see what the metal will let you do." Hanes then seals his copper work with high grade urethane.

Copper Artist R. Hanes Hoffman Copper Artist R. Hanes Hoffman, Jr.

Photograph Courtesy of R. Hanes Hoffman, Jr.

He buys copper sheet from various roofing companies in 50 foot rolls, mainly 16 oz, though sometimes 24 gauge as well. Much of his copper fish work however has been the result of a focused segment of society. "I have a relationship with the fishing industry and my work needs to have a considerable element of realism, and copper provides that," he notes. Working closely with fish and tournament associations, Hanes crafts custom-made awards for 15 to 20 fishing tournaments annually; some are ones and twos, and some tournaments require as many as 15 individual pieces. He sees these tournaments as a "gateway" to larger pieces for individuals who become enamored with his work. "I've dug out a nice niche for myself." And, like many artists confronted with changing business tactics, he has harnessed the power of the Internet. "The art buying community has become much more comfortable with purchasing online," he notes. And online sales provide him with direct customer interaction, something he craves.

His commissioned work has included local banks in Winston-Salem, and hotels including Hilton in Wilmington, but he also does large scale installation work; multiple piece scenes which create an ocean environment including schools of fish, crab and ocean bottoms. His work can always be seen at the New Morning Gallery in Ashville and though he doesn't engage in group shows or even one-man shows, his business continues along swimmingly.

"I have received lots of comments over the years that people love copper; it has a way of fitting into a wide variety of home décor," he says. "Copper is a warm metal picking up highlights from different light sources throughout the day; it's very prismatic."


Bluewater Copper Works, 1319-CC Military Cutoff Road, Wilmington, NC, (910) 262-6020

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