Copper in the Arts

June 2015

AJ's Copper Garden: Where Dreams Come True

By Nancy Ballou

Artist Anthony PattiArtist Anthony Patti with his signature copper frog art. 

Photo courtesy of Anthony Patti.

A degree in car mechanics and a love for tools set the foundation for Anthony J. Patti's career. When his father saw a copper lawn sprinkler revolving at a garden show, he said, “We should make them ourselves.” During their production, Patti got interested in playing around with copper bugs for the lawn. He worked for six months from his garage.

"I decided to devote all my time to the new sculptures,” he says. “Animals were cute, the details gave them personality. On January 1st, 2000, I rented a small shop in Iowa that served as a creative hideaway. Two years later, I changed the name from Garden Critters to AJ's Copper Garden. In 2007, I purchased and renovated the historic Homestead Cafe and gas station. Owning the business studio and art gallery made my dream a reality."

Artwork was made in all sizes, from small lawn pieces to six foot long frogs. "I began with various gauges of sheet copper, copper tubing and copper wiring. When I needed small amounts of sheet, I obtained my copper from roofing suppliers. I used soft sheeting, anywhere from 16-48 ounces. Tubing came from plumbing suppliers. I bought wire from stores like Menard's. Every diameter size of wire and tubing was utilized. I had worked with leather and pottery before, but for the last 16 years I have concentrated on only the finest copper. I love the natural feel of the metal and that it is so malleable." With his mechanical training, Patti has devised numerous anvils, hammers and tools for his art. “I constructed them for different hardnesses and textures,” he says. “Hammers with steel to steel heads allowed me to change forms. Some hammers were used more for smashing, others more for forming. After cutting and shaping, welding and brazing techniques permanently joined pieces into their final position. I do my brazing with silver solder. The sculptures may look delicate though they are quite sturdy and are reinforced with stainless steel to strengthen them for indoor or outdoor use."

Flower garden art made of copper, by Anthony Patti. Flower garden art made of copper by Anthony Patti.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Patti.  

Pieces are polished and cleaned before painting. On each, a bamboo brush applies an assortment of acid patinas that bring out the copper colors and control the natural patina. A clear coat finish prevents further aging. Translucent paints are airbrushed directly over the shiny copper surface. A double wet coat of urethane acts as a top coat, contains all the UV sun inhibitors and creates a bright luminescence. Finally, each piece is placed into an oven and baked. Once cured, urethane protects the sculpture from age, weather, sunlight and oxidation.

Patti's current and final project, a full eagle with a wingspan of 6 1/2 feet and 1900 feathers, will be highly detailed. "An anvil that I designed with a line in the center allows me to move my hammer along that line down each feather to create the feathers texture." A customer commission, the bird will sit upon a boulder in front of a private house.

Retiring this summer, Patti's last art show was the Iowa City Arts Festival, and he is selling his production studio and gallery, and closing the business entirely by the end of August, 2015 to move on to the next exciting chapter of his life.

"I am giving up one dream for another," he says. "I have always wanted to travel. I will be staying on my family's land in Italy for a year and a half. Then, I'll be doing some world touring."


AJ's Copper Garden, 3146 Highway 6 Trail, Homestead, IA

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