Alaska, Mexico and Beyond…

“One Journey Leads to Another”

Copper Artisans of Santa Clara

Copper, it’s polished surface almost blinding in the Mexican sunlight, has been part of life in Santa Clara del Cobre since the Pre-Hispanic era, when the Purépecha people developed methods for using copper to create jewelry, vases, pots, axes, and  innumerable other decorative and useful items. After the Conquest, the Spanish began mining the area, depleting the mines by the mid 20th century.  Today copper artisans hammer out a wide array of brilliant copper items from tiny pea-sized bells to entire doors, using mostly recycled copper cable from telephone and electric companies.

Treasure box created with copper and silver inlay.

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Knowledge of the traditional techniques has been passed down through families for generations, and more than 250 family workshops are scattered throughout the town of Santa Clara, located about 20 km from Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán. Craftsmen welcome visitors into their workshops to watch them transform a wad of used copper wire into a sink, a shining sun for the garden, or maybe even a bathtub!

Welcome to Cobre El Portón

Welcome to Cobre El Portón

Gleaming pots surrounded the doorway of Cobre El Portón, and my admiration grew as I meandered through two large showrooms and a courtyard, all stacked with an amazing variety of copperware. Artisans spend their days in work areas behind the shops, imagining a form and then melting and hammering it into existence.

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The process of copper creation is described below.

Click on any photo for a larger view and complete captions.


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Craftsmen repeat this process until the disc is the desired thickness, depending on the envisioned product. He then rests the disc on a metal rod that is buried in the ground and begins hammering it into the imagined shape. If a specialized tool is needed, he manufactures one for himself!

Ball peen hammers create a textured finish for sinks or pots. Acids and other treatments can change the color from glowing copper to green or shades of rust. Embellishing with engraving, etching, and silver inlay adds to the beauty of much of the copper work.

Business card lies on an oxidized copper switch plate.

Business card lies on an oxidized copper switch plate.The tiny bell may have been formed by casting.

 

Traditionally women were not involved in the copper industry because of the great upper body strength needed for hammering with sledgehammers and other heavy tools. In the late 1970’s, jewelry artist Ana Pellicer began teaching women to make copper beads, and this skill allowed them to grow into copper artists in their own right.


Shiny copper doors led into a courtyard where a demonstration forge was set up. Kids loved working the huge bellows!


The porch of an outdoor cafe was the perfect vantage point to watch the vendors showing off their wares and the shoppers trying to decide! A friendly young waiter set my plate of scrambled eggs with spicy chorizo and tortillas on top of this copper plate. Heated by the sun, it kept my breakfast toasty warm!
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Get a glimpse of furniture and more that is available from Cobre El Portón: http://www.cobreelporton.com

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17 thoughts on “Copper Artisans of Santa Clara

  1. Diane on said:

    Fabulous! Thanks for sharing, Marilyn!

  2. Another great post with wonderful accompanying photos, Marilyn. I always learn something new.

  3. Wonderful post! Love the photos you use to illustrate your stories.

  4. What a great joy it was to see Your post. Very interesting!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the copper artisans. The creativity and skills of the Mexican people are an endless source of admiration. Art and creating with the hands, especially in the indigenous people, is encouraged and begun at a very young age.
      They would love those paper folding art that your wife makes.

  5. ¡Muchisimas gracias, Marilyn! Now, another place to add to my “to go” list! It never ends… 😉

    • The lists just keep getting longer – I don’t think I’ll ever get through with Mexico!
      There are other villages near Pátzcuaro with their own expertise, (like around Oaxaca) different pottery, unique weaving, stonework…

  6. Alex Hurst on said:

    Thank you SO much for this!! You’ve inspired the missing piece to some trouble I was having in my current MS. The copper is lovely!

  7. I love local traditional craft and artisans. This a a great post and wonderfully informative. I am going to enjoy exploring your post and am already planning a future trip to Mexico! Thanks for dropping by my blog and commenting!

    • Oaxaca has the greatest number of indigenous people of all the states of Mexico, and their warmth and friendly smiles greet you everywhere. Their artistic abilities in textiles, pottery, wood carving and other types of handwork are exceptional.
      Hundreds of archaeological sites exist in Oaxaca, some so hidden that we only know of them because of the kindness of the villagers.
      We spend 5 1/2 months in Oaxaca every year, and do a lot of hiking in the Sierras. If that’s something that interests you, check out hoofingitinoaxaca.com
      The food is great…well, I could go on and on, but if at all possible, don’t miss Oaxaca!

  8. Marilyn, how-to workshops like this are so enjoyable, regularly leaving me with a greater appreciation for an object and its artisan. Did you take home any copper trinkets?

    • Somehow I missed this comment of yours. Most of the copper work I brought home was used in our Rotary fundraiser. I think I managed to keep a copper lightswitch plate! I guess I’ll have to go back.

  9. This copper work is gorgeous, Marilyn. I was particularly struck by the treasure box created with copper and silver inlay. Just beautiful. ~Terri

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