Élan Young: Coming Home to Copper
Élan Young began her journey to copper when she had a spark for an idea in 2012. At the time, she was seeking an answer to her professional future when she was laid off from a job and was freelance writing about regional craft schools in her home state of Tennessee.
“I got insanely jealous,” Young says. “I thought about what I would do if I had the opportunity and said to myself, ‘I just want to play with metal and fire’.”
This relationship led to her pursuit as a metalsmith, but she was in search of more than perfecting a craftsmanship upon which to anchor techniques to make handmade jewelry. With a history that included some career upsets, Young saw her new entrepreneurial journey as a pathway for female empowerment.
“I wanted to do something that spoke to me and filled me up and was completely born out of my own imagination,” she says.” It gave me an avenue to dream and it was a lifeline of a different future for me.”
While Young has an MFA in creative writing and is an award-winning writer, she’s a self-taught metalsmith given that at the time she decided to go in this new direction, she didn’t have the means to get a whole new education.
“I was watching videos and getting DVDs, doing special courses online and trying to study from books,” she says.
Despite her affinity for fire and metal serving as the driving forces that led her to metalsmithing, her background in writing marketing materials had her thinking about what she needed to do to turn her idea into a business.
“I was looking at the makers’ movement and how do they make a living and how do they make it work,” she says. “I was kind of dipping my toe in the water and not sure what direction I’d be going in.”
Through her process of imagining, the name of her business and logo were beginning to take shape. After four years invested in learning the craft and experimenting she was ready to launch her business: Copper Fire Handmade Jewelry.
The name of Young’s business is centered on an underlying relationship she has had with copper well before she started working with it.
“I have always loved copper,” she says. “I have red hair and people have always told me, ‘your hair is like copper’.”
The fact that she could work with copper through color made it very intriguing to her when setting out to create her jewelry designs.
“Copper has amazing capacities for patina,” she says. “Copper has the ability to grow more beautiful as nature touches it.”
When she began experimenting with copper she felt she had an instant familiarity with the metal that she says makes her feel as though she is working with a living thing.
“It seemed like coming home,” she says.” It felt so wonderful to work with copper.”
Copper has served as a driving force behind many of her one-of-a-kind designs that range from rings and necklaces to pendants, earrings, cuffs, bracelets. Coming out of the gates, Young’s style was bold and can still best be categorized as statement pieces each typically featuring a combination of metals such as copper, brass and silver.
“Mixing metals is fun, but sometimes copper just needs to stand alone,” she says.
Young also makes bowls that can serve as ring dishes.
“I have a special stump I use that has some bowl cuts in it and I just hammer away at it,” she says, adding that to patina them she uses the sawdust burying method that involves vinegar and salt.
Aligning with sustainability is important to Young when it comes to seeking out materials to make her pieces. She uses recycled and upcycled materials whenever possible, including therapeutic grade copper and ethically sourced stones. The self-described environmentalist and activist donates a portion of profits to environmental conservation and social justice work.
“People started giving me copper wire or copper sheet,” she says. “I love the idea of working with what you have -- it goes in line so much with my values.”
Young’s hometown of Walland, located in the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, feeds into her creativity. A lover of nature and an avid hiker and backpacker, she is drawn to the colors of such growth as lichen and the shape of ferns, something that has inspired her latest design direction.
Now that Young is a wife and mother she has to get creative in carving out time to spend in her studio that’s located at her home. She has come to realize she has to be more creative in how to scale up and be more productive with her time.
“I found a company that will do molds and cast in recycled copper,” she says. “I was thinking that would be a fun direction to go in.”
Regardless of direction, copper is one aspect of her designs that is certain to remain constant.
“It has been used through antiquity,” Young says. “It has a mystical aspect -- it seemed to cast a spell on me.”
Also in this Issue:
- Nancy Schön: Bold & Bronze
- Mutu’s Bronze Facade Commission on Display at the Met
- Élan Young: Coming Home to Copper
- Sculptor Chris Navarro: Adventures in Bronze and Beyond
- J. Anne Butler: Inspiration in Emotion