Copper in the Arts

June 2015

Capturing The Melodies And Colors of Copper

By Nancy Ballou

Gateway Brahman sculpture by Jeff Hinkley. Gateway Brahman sculpture by Jeff Hinkley. 

Photo courtesy of Jeff Hinkey.

Jeff Hinkley always loved nature and science. After developing a penchant for woodworking, experimenting and inventing in his father's workshop, he pursued photography. But he wanted to be more creative. He thought of making something that would sound melodic in addition to being beautiful and durable. In 1993, he opened a small shop in Florida and called his business Thunderbird Chimes.

"Copper was the perfect choice for my wind chimes," says Hinkley. "It has a warm, earthy energy. I combine solid birch ball clappers with copper tubes to elicit soft, mellow tones that no other metal can produce. These include the high delicate 'dolphin' to the deep resonant 'mountain' sounds. Proper tuning requires a formula on the scientific side.”

He uses recycled copper roof flashing to create his wind catchers, which he obtains from a local salvage company.

“Basically, I hand cut using a tin snips, then hammer,” he says. “I have some tools I made from heavy gauge steel rods and a hand operated roller press for forming. Tubes are treated chemically to create an attractive and peaceful blue patina."

The copper tubes and solid brass hardware are non-rusting. The wood tops are cedar and, along with the clappers, are soaked in preservatives. A thick braided black polyester cord is resistant to UV light, rot and mildew for better wear and longer life. Solid brass grommets are placed in pipe holes to reduce cord fraying.

Some artwork has a transcendental side. One chime, designed for use in Feng Shui to balance and harmonize negative energy, contains an octagonal top with the symbol of prosperity. When hung correctly, it promotes good health and wealth.

To give back to anyone interested, Hinkley sells a booklet on how to make a wind chime offering detailed instructions on proper tube measurements and hanging requirements for perfect tuning. Templates and creation of the signature blue oxidation are included.

"In 2006, I expanded my artwork to include wall sculptures. Images are sketched and traced onto sheet copper, hand cut and hand formed to 3-D curves. I apply the techniques and processes I've learned over my years working with copper. A hand operated press makes creases or 'veins' flow out to the curved edges. Reinforcing copper pipes, copper plates and stainless steel screws join the pieces before they are bonded with solder. Several layers and mixtures of satin enamel spray paint are applied and buffed to expose the veins. Some designs are etched to reveal copper highlights. A final coat of clear satin enamel protects and seals any bare copper.

"My greatest challenge was producing fire pit covers. Being almost three feet wide, they required extensive hammering to get a round look. The customer wanted a fleur de lis pattern. I used chemical acid baths to dissolve copper areas, creating a relief or raised design.

"I recently discovered that linseed oil splattered on the copper and torched creates great texture. Starting with brownish tones of copper, I've been experimenting with processes over tubing or sheets to change color. I use chemical reaction solutions such as Miracle Gro fertilizer with white vinegar. A hand held propane torch works with smaller pieces.

"A large circular wall piece, Gateway to Brahman, is my favorite. I used a chemical etching process that creates a raised image. An elaborate design expresses an abstract idea through multilayering." Antiquing patina is applied to the bare copper to give it an aged look.

A body of Hinkley's large wall pieces has received second place at fine art shows and he has received overall merit awards. When he is not participating in art exhibitions, he is at the Fort Pierce Craft Market and Stuart Green Market every weekend.


Jeff Hinkley, Thunderbird Chimes, P.O. Box 3323, Stuart, FL

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