Contemporary Twist on an Ancient Craft

NH artisans Allen and Brenda Caswell coat metal with color to create functional art

A variety of plates, condiment bowls and coasters are available from McCrillis Hill Copper Works. Prices range from $42 to $200.

Photo by Charley Freiberg

Coating metal with color designs seems a natural extension of Allen and Brenda Caswell's talents. Allen has worked with sheet metal and Brenda has worked with color in both fiber and ceramic arts. Now the couple from Center Harbor work as a team to produce spun copper plates and bowls.

Allen does the "spinning" on a lathe. A circular sheet of copper is forced up against a wood mold. The relatively soft metal quickly takes on the shape of the wood bowl or plate.

Brenda adds color through enameling. Powdered glass is sifted on the metal and fired in a kiln. It may take several layers of color and repeated firings to achieve the desired luminescent result. And that's the difficult part, Brenda says. "It's a challenge. Higher temperatures in the kiln can make the color more brilliant or it can burn."

In her fern series Brenda uses actual fern leaves that mask the powdered glass. In a repeat firing a clear glaze covers the whole plate and the positive image of the ferns is actually the unpigmented copper. The Caswells' work can be found at area League of New Hampshire Craftsmen shops, including Meredith, Hanover, North Conway and Littleton.

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