Copper in the Arts

August 2013

To the Depths of the Sea with Copper

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

Copper Sculpture Copper sculpture by Debra Purdy.

Photograph courtesy of Debra Purdy

Debra Purdy has been working with copper all throughout her artistic journey, which began 37 years ago at the age of 20.

“I started out doing gem trees – little copper trees,” Debra says. “It just evolved from there.”

As the scale of her work grew, so did the amount of tools she used to complete her visions.

“A friend of mine taught me how to light an oxygen and acetylene torch,” she says of her hand-held torch. “With the extreme heat you can do lots of things.”

In addition, she uses a soldering iron along with pliers and various hammers to create texture.

“I started out strictly by trial and error,” says the self-taught artist with no formal training.

Today you will find Debra creating sculptures and repousse in her workshop located at her home in . Copper is still her choice medium and the subject matter of her work is inspired by her proximity to the sea.

“Basically it’s all nautical designs,” she says. One piece might focus on turtles or seahorses and another will depict her interpretation of an underwater ocean scene. Purdy achieves the colors present in her work through different means. “I buy the patina in liquid form. It turns different colors depending on how many coats you put on,” she says. Using a torch, she brings out various colors through the copper patina. “I’ll get blues and rose colors. You can even get kind of a silver color, just by the heating and cooling of it.” 

Copper sculpture Copper sculpture depicting seahorses.

Photograph courtesy of Debra Purdy

Debra locates copper through salesmen with whom she has relationships.

“I buy it anywhere I can buy it the cheapest,” she says, of the sheets of roofing copper shipped to her from various locations in the United States. “It’s easy to work with and comes in 3’ x 10’ sheets.” An exhibition of her work at an art show 22 years ago led her to her husband, Robert, who designed redwood burl tables and clocks at the time. After becoming partners in life, they soon realized they could merge their skills to collaborate on Debra’s creations.

“I was developing my own work but it’s much better together,” she says. The collaboration involves Debra completing all of the design work and Robert focusing on the mounting and display aspects of the pieces. “I’ll prep it all and get it all ready,” Robert says. “It’s a non stop repetition of parts and pieces for different designs.”

Purdy’s sculptures, mounted on driftwood, can either be mounted on the wall or free standing.  “We bleach, clean, and pressure wash the driftwood it so it is nice and clean,” she says of the Florida buttonwood. “He (Robert) planes the back of the wood so it hangs on a wall. If it is to stand, he uses a chunky piece of wood and planes the bottom so it can be placed on a shelf or a coffee table.”

Despite primarily serving a function, the wood also contributes to the sculptural nature of the work. “It’s all unique and one-of a kind pieces of wood made by Mother Nature,” she says. Their handcrafted pieces are sold at art shows along the East Coast. Others are completed on a commission basis. Her customers range from homeowners to corporations. Debra and Robert are currently in the process of becoming master naturalists through a program at the University of Florida to further enrich their artistic pursuits.

“This is going to bring me even closer to nature,” Debra says.


Copper Art by Debra, Port Charlotte, FL, (941) 286-6892

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