Copper in the Arts

April 2021

Scott Hemphill: In Service of Art

By Jesse Avalon

S_Hemphill1.jpgHempill’s studio, with Shark Buoy hanging in the background. 
Photograph courtesy of Scott Hemphill.

When the weather is right in Humboldt County, California, it is not unusual to find local copper artist Scott Hemphill of Hemphill Copperworks cruising down the street in his Copper Quad Art Car. Lovingly referred to by its creator as CQ, this is no ordinary vehicle.

The name calls back to Hemphill’s days in the US Coast Guard, in which he served for over 27 years. CQ is morse code for “calling all stations”. With its steel frame and copper plating the CQ does just that, serving as a roving advertisement for Hemphill Copperworks. “I was just driving it around the other day, and every time people are gawking and stopping, laughing and smiling,” Hemphill says. “It’s a moving billboard, I have a little business card holder in it.”

Long before Hemphill Copperworks was conceived, Hemphill was exposed to metalworking in his father’s machine shop. Already an artist, he preferred drawing over metal sculpting. At first, he says, it simply did not appeal to him. This changed in the late 1980’s, when Scott was transferred to Humboldt Bay Air Station. “My neighbor was doing all kinds of artwork, and that’s how I got into doing copperwork,” he recalls. “It was just being in the right place at the right time.”

It was in Humboldt County that he decided to make his art a commercial endeavor, and from this decision, Hemphill Copperworks was born. 

Scott sources his copper locally when he can. “Sometimes people will give it to me,” he says. “They know I’m doing copper and a lot of the time people will say they have scrap and ask if I want to look at it. I’m always on the lookout for it--I’ve found it’s becoming harder to find.”

He draws his inspiration from a variety of sources, not the least of which being his service in the Coast Guard. “People ask why I’m attracted to sharks,” he says. “I learned to scuba dive while I was in Hawaii. I did diving in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and Palou, all over the world. So taking those experiences and seeing what the sea life is like is a big part of it.”

S_Hempill_Copper_Car.jpgCopper plating on the Copper Quad Art Car. 
Photograph courtesy of Scott Hemphill.

Hemphill’s inspiration shines through in pieces like Shark Buoy. Completed late last year, the piece took hundreds of hours to put together. Its natural looking form hints at Hemphill’s years of experience working with copper. “When I started it was difficult,” he reflects. “Now, soft edges and curves are my goal. I don’t want any straight lines, I like to have it look continuous. That hasn’t come easy, it’s from years and years of working with metal. It’s easy now because I’ve done it for so long.”

That hard-earned experience shines through in pieces like the aforementioned Copper Quad Art Car, a massive undertaking that took around 1200 hours to complete. It began its life as the pet project of a friend before being passed on to Hemphill, who rebuilt it largely from the ground up. “That car completely changed the way I do my artwork,” he explains. “When you do stuff like that, you need to make the frame first. It takes forever, it just keeps going on. When you finally start putting the panels on, that’s when it really comes together.”

Hemphill’s work evokes the tradition of earlier Humboldt based copper artists, a fact he does not hesitate to mention. “There was a local artist named Hobart Brown doing copper sculptures,” he says, recalling his early days in Humboldt County. “He was my inspiration. I never really thought about copperworking until I was exposed to it, and then I said you know what, let’s give it a shot. It just took off and continues to this day.”


Scott Hemphill, Humboldt County, CA

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