Copper in the Arts

April 2013

West Coast Native American Inspirations Speak in Copper Jewelry

By Jennifer Hetrick

Wolf Pendant Wolf Pendant, Sue Coccia.

Photograph courtesy of Denise Woolard

With deep roots in copper art dating back to 1895, the Metal Arts Group in Portland, Oregon has been preserving the history, culture and spirit of America with their unique cooperative of metal artists around the country.

Although the company originally began as the Joseph Mayer & Bros Inc, producing souvenir spoons, flatware, tableware and jewelry, Metal Arts Group has evolved to become one of the country's leading producers of Americana-inspired jewelry.

Recently, they've seen a resurgence with their Native American jewelry line. In this particular line, Metal Arts Group captures the history, culture and ideologies of Native American people of the Northwest Coast and the First Nations through a series of handcrafted copper jewelry. Marketing and Sales Director, Denise Woolard says that about 50 percent of the company's sales can be attributed to clients in Alaska, where their artists and consumers have a strong connection to the heritage and land beyond the most northward Canadian borders.

And with 25 years in the jewelry industry, Woolard says she appreciates the opportunity to learn about jewelry with such individualized history woven into it so that the educational aspects of the work are always pushing forward.

The majority of artists who contribute to the company's jewelry reputation submit their designs through digital or mailed copies of work, but a small percentage of them do send in already partially prepared cuts of metal waiting for the final finishes by skilled craftsman and machinery at the Portland facility.

In addition to bracelets, earrings, pendants, rings, buckles, knives and dog tags in copper, some of the artists who are a part of Metal Arts Group also are known to create designs for bolo ties, hair barrettes, money clips and custom orders.

Council Grounds Bracelet Council Grounds Bracelet, Barry Burger.

Photograph courtesy of Denise Woolard

Jewelry presses, die cutting, tooling, lost wax casting and polishing equipment are operated by true artisans who are skilled through many years of involvement with Metal Arts Group. Its production manager finalizes the copper jewelry product line which carries a long history in its components, Woolard adds.

Metal Arts Group sources its copper mostly from Alaskan Copper & Brass Company and Alaskan Copper Works based on the Northwest Coast.

The International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, and the Alaska Raptor Center headquartered in Sitka not far from Crescent Bay are two nonprofits in the group's clientele lineup and sometimes reach out for jewelry purchases in planning for their fundraisers to support wildlife.

"Our artists are very responsive to the copper industry when I send out letters every few months," Woolard says of the artists with whom she keeps in touch. "They're definitely on board with the idea and like that it's different."

Woolard notes that artist Bill Helin who grew up in Prince Rupert, British Columbia-with his father having been a Tsimshian tribal chief, his grandfather serving as a chief of the Girlan Tribe and his grandmother as a chieftainess of the Gitgeese Tribe-is known for his three-dimensional jewelry beckoning of very striking detail finished in a sandblasted look instead of antiquing.

Pride, nectar of life, gentle strength, unity, eagle and orca whale designs are just some themes tied into the very durably completed jewelry that results from Helin's artistic labors.

"The bolder and bigger sells more when it come to copper," Woolard says of what she has noticed, estimating that around a quarter of Metal Arts Group's annual sales are accounted for in copper jewelry orders.


Metal Arts Group, P.O. Box 80727, Portland, OR, (800) 325-6958

Also in this Issue:


2022   |   2021   |   2020   |   2019   |   2018   |   2017   |   2016   |   2015   |   2014   |   2013   |   2012   |   2011   |   2010   |   2009   |   2008   |   2007

Contact the Editor: