Copper in the Arts

September 2013

Trudi Gilliam: Mixed-Media Sculptures That Reflect Natural And Timeless Beauty

By Nancy Ballou

Sunset Beach, by Trudi Gilliam.Sunset Beach, by Trudi Gilliam.

As an avid certified scuba diver, copper artist Trudi Gilliam is deeply influenced by the water life she loves. After Gilliam earned her Fine Arts Degree from James Madison University in Virginia,  she then moved to St. Croix, took a course in Reef Ecology from West Indies Laboratory of Farleigh Dickerson University, then taught art for nine years.

"I realized I could open my own Gallery/Studio and make a living sculpting full-time." Her studio was at the foot of one of the most popular restaurants in the hub of St. Croix. She soon became adept at making small pieces for tourists to mail or take on planes. Larger sculptures were usually broken down into three sections for shipping.

She began her metalwork with steel drums obtained from a huge refinery, but soon switched to copper for its added durability.

“Steel did not last long in the salty tropical air,” she recalls. “On St. Croix, lots of buildings and old structures were being restored so I obtained scrap copper from roofs and old shower stalls. I like copper because it doesn't corrode easily and lasts a long time, so I accumulated whatever I could. It is perfect for outdoor or indoor atriums, which are common in the Caribbean. When Hurricane Hugo destroyed my studio in 1989, we rebuilt. Then Hurricane Marilyn hit us five years later. I already had a house in Montana, so after my 25 years in the Caribbean, I moved back to the mainland of the United States permanently and now work out of my home studio there. I still snorkel every year when I visit St. Croix every year and love sculpting sea life."

Steel Pan Trio, by Trudi Gilliam.Steel Pan Trio, by Trudi Gilliam.

In the beginning, Gilliam bought eight to twelve 3' x 10' sheets of new copper at a time through a Florida supplier which lasted her about a year.

“Since moving to Montana, I purchase scrap copper from Pacific Steel, a recycler,” she recalls.  “I begin by cutting the copper into shapes, hammering, then use my acetylene torch. The most challenging part of my work is getting the brass and copper to the same melting temperature."

Bronze brazing rods serve as crayons/pencils to build, connect and make the sculptures plus enhance the details one sees in her landscapes and faces of her masks.

"I buy tubes of color from the art store and apply thin washes, sometimes as many as five veils,” Gilliam says.  “I spray a matt finish polyurethane glaze for both indoor and outdoor pieces. It is not unusual to find Jasper, Quartzite, driftwood and polished rocks along Montana's rivers. I like pottery chards and sea glass found while beach combing, too. I attach the found objects to the copper with clear, five-minute epoxy. For years, I have been making my own triangular hangers of bronze rods which lift the work from the wall. I use prong-like structures that attach the sea glass and pottery chards strongly onto my wall weavings.”

A participant in numerous one-man and group exhibitions, her sculptures can be seen at many galleries throughout the United States. The Depot Gallery in Ennis, MT, features her work in their once a month Art Walks with various themes to inspire the artists. August's theme is water. She still maintains her ties with St. Thomas and St. Croix and returns annually for the Caribbean Fine Arts Exhibit during Presidents' weekend in February. She is already preparing for the 2014 exhibit.


Trudi Gilliam, Ennis, MT, (406) 682-7772

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