Copper in the Arts

November 2014

Sparkflight: Copper Wire Transformed

By Nancy Ballou

Ruth Jensen and Porcus SculptureArtist Ruth Jensen and Porcus sculpture.

When Ruth Jensen decided to try making jewelry following back surgery in 2006, she had a revelation.

“Beads flew irretrievably around the room,” she recalls. “With just wire remaining, I twisted a little bird and haven't stopped since.

Today, she creates sculptures out of copper wire, one twist at a time--without patterns or molds.

“I envision a shape, then fashion the wire into what I want,” she says. “My designs are like puzzles, which I love. I eventually thought of jewelry as wearable sculpture and returned to it. Pieces are meant to intrigue and delight."

After some experimentation, Jensen found copper the most beautiful, malleable wire for both sculpting and jewelry.

“I began stripping old cables acquired from an electronics recycling facility,” she says. “They soon stopped selling to individuals. My best sources are family or friends with remodeling projects, Craigslist and building supply stores."

All of her projects are intricately handcrafted by Jensen herself.

"Stripping and wrapping wire is labor intensive,” she says. “When I created the 14” copper puppy, I started at the pup's nose, twisting a couple wires together across the top, one more at each corner, then another to change direction for each eye. Trying hard to keep symmetrical, I used 150 feet of wire in three days. A complex cat only 5” tall took more than twice as long to make because it required much wire weaving in closed spaces.Rex the Rooster was a privately commissioned, 14-gauge copper sculpture containing 150 feet of wire for an 18" height and depth. I spent one and a half weeks completing him."

Born and raised in Minnesota, Jensen maintains a large studio room at her home in St. Paul. Called Sparkflight, in memory of a son who originally selected the name, she spends summers there wire sculpting. Winters, she works out of California, where tools/supplies are spread throughout the house and garage to fashion jewelry.

"I use wire cutters and a chain-nose pliers when making sculptures,” she says. “A round-nose pliers is handy for small loops that act as hinges. I have an arsenal of jewelry hand tools, from small torches to big hammers. I love to experiment! Online instructions taught me how to acid etch some freehand designs on copper circles that I had hammered into domes for earrings. Liver of sulphur darkens copper beautifully, so I often use that to bring out designs/textures on my jewelry. My owl earrings are lightly etched and hammered."

Everything inspires Jensen. She keeps a notebook handy to jot down ideas. Birds can be sculptures, pendant necklaces or inside handmade copper wire cages. A single piece of 26' wire might be woven into a cuff bracelet. Tiny copper flowers and leaves, soldered onto a 2” picture frame, are sawed from 18-gauge copper sheet. Life size figures of men and women have a startling transparency.

An example of Jensen's whimsical side is the Rapunzel's Tower sculpture of recycled copper wire. It is signed in wire, rj2012, for the artist and year. The shutters are movable, the stones on the front and back are polished agates.

"One of my largest works thus far is Porcus Aurelius, a happy pig who devoured almost 1000 feet of 14-gauge copper wire and took 4 to 6 weeks to make. He resides at Matt's Big Breakfast in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. One of my smallest is a 3" copper swing that actually swings. Even a small bird such as a wren can take 8 to 10 hours. My current pet project combines sculpture and jewelry techniques into a single piece."


Sparkflight, Minnesota and California, [email protected]

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