Copper in the Arts

June 2014

The Confluence of Craftsman Copper and Light

By Jennifer Hetrick

Craftsmand Copper Lighting FixtureCraftsman Copper Lighting Fixture

Light and copper come together in a naturally whimsical yet humble pairing in each lamp, sconce and chandelier James Davies makes through his one-man effort known as Craftsman Copper based in Olympia, Thurston County in Washington.

His fixtures are done in the American Arts and Crafts style, mostly custom orders and often reproductions. Sometimes this work spills into bringing older fixtures back into a better brand of life, which was the case when he restored a Dirk Van Erp lamp for renowned motorcycle enthusiast Jesse James.

More of his own creativity weaves into pieces like his Riverside design, which he’s done in sconce and chandelier form. With a larger square window for light at the base of all four sides, and four smaller-framed windows just above them, the golden-brown light illuminates captivatingly in any space. And the slightly buckled middles in the tiny yet strong structure of each carry the copper smoothly and admirably.

Davies began his journey in the arts while studying sculpture and functional design while earning his bachelor of fine arts degree from Evergreen State College.

Upon graduating in 1994, he found himself apprenticing under Michael Ashford of what is now Evergreen Studios. Under Ashford’s wing, Davies began to learn about copper and lighting.

He eventually spent a total of 11 years building shop experience there before opening his own coppersmithing operation in 2005.

In the past, besides in his lighting labors, Davies has crafted hand-hammered trays, umbrella stands and more recently copper distillery components for microbreweries around the country. His first copper still was installed in a brewpub in New York; since then, he’s taken orders for copper stills for beer-savvy clientele in Ohio and Kentucky and is looking into more to possibly ship to Idaho and Texas.

Handmade Antique-Finish LampHandmade Antique-Finish Lamp

The Mercer Museum in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, specializing largely in collections of handmade tools, has custom-built low-voltage lantern wall sconces from Davies, with miniature compact fluorescent lights in each.

Davies sources his metal from Alaskan Copper & Brass, with its closest locations to him in Seattle and Portland.

Working from drawings and then building parts for the whole of his lighting designs, Davies generally works on one fixture at a time in his craft. But in the case of doing several sets of lights, he will build out a few pieces for the different fixtures along the way to bend in the favor of economies of scale.

Three of his chandeliers joined the home of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh in New Zealand in recent years—Jackson of Lord of the Rings trilogy fame.

“I love the color of copper,” Davies says. “I like its reactivity to chemical patinas and how you can change the surface, taking something flat and turning it into something round, since that isn’t possible with a lot of metals.”

Doing reproductions and trying to make something look as if it’s 100 years old is one of the greatest challenges Davies mentions in his labors. But having happy clients who feel they’ve invested well is a lot of what makes it all worthwhile.


Craftsman Copper, Olympia, WA

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