Copper in the Arts

June 2013

Ginger Meek Allen: Metalsmith and Ringleader at LEDE Studio And Gallery

By Nancy Ballou

Amber Journey Bracelet Amber Journey Bracelet

Photograph courtesy of Ginger Meek Allen

Collectibles may mean old cars and antiques to some, but to Ginger Meek Allen they are the tools she works with daily. Once a resident metalsmith and jeweler at Cotton Company in downtown Wake Forest, NC, she now owns LEDE Studio and Gallery which she shares with four other artists. Collectors, clients and other art aficionados are constant visitors and they all thrive on exploration of ideas, techniques, camaraderie and support.

"In college, a metalsmithing friend got me hooked and I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life,” she says.  “Because I learned using copper, I developed an affinity with the warm metal. I  like using it on the outside of silver bracelets where it shines beautifully and there is less skin contact. Golfers order copper cuffs, sometimes for medicinal benefits. I incorporate many techniques with copper, both for jewelry and small sculptures - hammering, chasing, fold-forming, soldering, annealing, tumbling, etching. The patinas are great and I mix my own natural recipes. People often give me old gutters and piping. I buy copper sheet, tubing, wire and rod stock from Metalliferous in New York and Rio Grande in Albuquerque when I need to purchase supplies.”

LEDE Studio contains measuring devices, strictly controlled flames/chemicals and lots of tools. It is busy, creative and vibrant with remnants of ideas everywhere.

"I do forging, soldering, striking, enameling, stone setting, fabricating and other methods that I have acquired during more than 20 years jewelry making -- experience from beading to complex metalsmithing,” she says. “Many customers desire pieces to commemorate milestones in their lives and all are custom made, one-of-a-kind. I also surround myself with books and music for inspiration while I work."

Humble vessel Humble Vessel

Photograph courtesy of Ginger Meek Allen

In her studio she has a modified watchmaker's bench and a standard jeweler's bench. Torch set-ups like air/acetylene and oxy-propane are separate in an area with firebrick, tripods and honeycomb.

"I especially love tools with a history,” she says. “I constantly use hammers. My latest is a large vertical cross-peen. And, I will buy pliers even for one-time projects. I obtained one anvil from a blacksmith supplier. It is where I do much of my forging, fold-forming and planishing. I named another anvil Isabel because it is mounted on a stump my dad brought for me after Hurricane Isabel brought down a huge maple tree in his back yard. A third is from a section of railroad iron.”

The equipment in her shop all have a story to tell.

"My rolling mill is antique,” she says proudly. “I purchased it from a metalsmith and found out the manufacturing company was only in business for twenty years at the turn of the century. I had the rollers redressed at a machine shop and it is still going strong. It creates texturing on the copper. And, a welder friend built me a hydraulic press to my specifications. I craft  bowls from a single sheet of copper and enamel them with my kiln but jewelry is my favorite because it is personal. My bandsaw is also from my father and I use a buffing wheel, forming stakes and have many shelves of found objects. I recently created a hollow form copper vessel neckpiece from a photograph that a client brought from Prague. The picture is a building and the copper center opens into a box." 

Meek Allen teaches metalsmithing and enameling classes which will resume later this year. The Gallery hosts a reception once a month as part of "Art After Hours" on second Friday nights. There are two big shows annually, "Full Circle," where custom rings are suspended from the ceiling during June/July and "Lavaliere" featuring all kinds of neck adornment in November/December.


LEDE Studio And Gallery, 504 South White Street, Wake Forest, NC, (919) 435-6984

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