Copper has remarkable properties and sensuous beauty, and so has been valued and worked by mankind for nearly 10,000 years.
Civilizations in the areas of the world that are now China, Egypt, Greece, Iraq and the Sumerian cities all have early evidence of using copper. It has served in functional, ritual and aesthetic roles – in tools, weaponry, items of worship, jewelry and the decorative arts. Since peoples’ first efforts to create objects that represent beauty, power, and a connection to the earth, copper has been a favorite material.
Copper is a chemical element in the periodic table. It is one of the basic building blocks of the universe, with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. Copper’s relatives in the periodic table are silver and gold. Like them, it is highly malleable (able to be worked into different forms), highly ductile (conductive of heat and electricity) and is renowned for its beauty, with its lustrous reddish gold hue and tendency to patinate to a number of colors, and turn colors when heated.
Today the millions miles of copper wire on our planet form a network that transmits much of the energy and knowledge of civilization. Copper pipe and tubing carry much of our water. On a more basic level, we still respond to its attractive and oddly changeable appearance. Copper is an essential nutrient to all high plants and animals. In animals, including humans, it is found primarily in the bloodstream, as a co-factor in various enzymes, and in copper-based pigments. Copper is germicidal, via the oligodynamic effect. For example, brass doorknobs disinfect themselves of many bacteria within eight hours. This effect is useful in many applications.
There are many copper alloys, with important historical and contemporary uses. Speculum metal and bronze are alloys of copper and tin. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Monel metal, also called cupronickel, is an alloy of copper and nickel. While the metal “bronze” usually refers to copper-tin alloys, it also is a generic term for any alloy of copper, such as aluminium bronze, silicon bronze, and manganese bronze.
Copper is a diminishing resource. According to New Scientist (May 23, 2007) our world has less than 60 years supply of copper left. For artists there is an awed respect for, and joy in working with, this extraordinary metal of the earth.
Patina is a chemical process that alters the surface of a metal leaving a colored compound adhered to the metal. Patinas form on metal from exposure to the elements, or are deliberately added by artists and metalworkers. Patinas may be used to ‘antique’ objects, as a part of the design or decoration of art and furniture. The most striking of patinas is a green or blue green surface created by slow chemical alteration of copper, producing a basic carbonate. It can form on pure copper objects as well as alloys which contain copper, such as bronze or brass. Patination varies with the reacted elements and will determine the color of the patina. Exposure to chlorides leads to green and blue, while sulfur compounds tend to brown. Perhaps the best known example of patina in the United States is the bluish-green colored coating on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, which is made of copper sheets 3/32 of an inch thick, roughly the same as two pennies put together, over an iron framework. The copper has naturally oxidized to form its familiar patina green coating.
At Copperhand Studio the artist applies patina solutions in the studio to create color, texture and pattern according to a planned composition on a flat surface of pure copper. Working in concert with nature, using unique ways of realizing designs – essentially painting with patina – results in the foundation for extraordinary works of art.