Copper in the Arts

July 2012

Charles McBride White: Sculptor of the Elements

By Frank McMahon

organic rhapsody Organic Rhapsody, copper sculpture.

Photograph courtesy of Charles McBride White

Although Missouri-based artist Charles McBride White's creates many different types of art, from geometric wall sculptures to his world renown copper fountains, there is a common muse to his work: the elements of the natural world.

"Nature is number one," he says of his inspiration. "Pots, limbs and tree branches---things formed by air and things we don't see, wave patterns in water, the wind and the way birds fly."

While attending graduate school in Corpus Christi, Texas White picked up surfing. It was while surfing he made many of his observations of the movements of nature.

White started building fountains in the early 1980's. After graduate school, he spent a few years as an art contractor and worked with fountains jets. As part of his work, White spent a lot of time looking at fountains and concluded that most of them were missing a key aesthetic---they did not emphasize water. He decided to approach fountain building from a different perspective.

"Forget everything you have ever known," recalls White of his initial creative process to reinvent the fountain. "Start with water and build it from there".

One of his early fountains, was part of revitalization project in downtown Corpus Christi. It featured copper and bronze sculpted Whooping Cranes dancing in a cascading circle of water.

Today, White makes a variety of fountains and sculptures, all of them featuring copper, bronze and brass.

"Copper is the basic metal I use for all of the fountains," he says. White recalls how he once even dissuaded another artist from building a fountain out of steel because it would rust.

Charles White at work Charles McBride White at work in his studio.

Photograph courtesy of Charles McBride White

White obtains his copper from suppliers throughout the United States including Quality Metals Co (Missouri), Cambridge-Lee, (Texas) and Atlas (Colorado).

White explained how he has learned more about people's reactions to his fountains by attending art shows. In order to give the illusion of swaying grass and waves of motion, White added brass rods that would vibrate as water flowed through the fountain. The rods vibrated like a tuning fork, creating a slight hum that adds to the sound of the flowing water. Musicians have told White that the hum creates a harmonic A. At art shows, White lets people touch the rods and feel the vibration, which sometimes give off a little shock of static electricity.

Sound is another consideration when building fountains, and White takes that element very seriously. Each of his fountains creates a different sound.

"You want to have soothing sounds," he says. "The Rain fountains sound like a soothing rain, the Calligraphic fountains sound like a gentle brook running over rocks. Geometrically designed fountains make a soft wind chime sound. The sound of that fountain will mellow you out."

White's upcoming shows include the Art Fair on the Square Madison, WI, July 14 to 15, Mosaics Festival for the Arts St. Charles, MO, September 14 to 16 and the Bayou City Art Festival in Downtown Houston, TX, October 13 to 14.


Charles McBride White, Horizons Studios, 5494 Hwy. Licking, MO, (573) 548-2580

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