Happy 150th Birthday Canada

Posted by on Mar 24, 2017

My piece for the Artisan Competition “Happy Birthday Canada” is constructed from copper wire (various thicknesses), wood and 150 Canadian pennies. Come see it in the centre aisle at OOAK Spring 2017, March 29th to April 2nd. You’ll find me in Booth #E55.

Every One of a Kind Show, we artisans are challenged to create a competition piece based on a different theme. This year’s Spring Show theme is “Happy Birthday Canada”.

I never used to submit anything to the competition. I was always too busy just working on my own booth presentation. But then, I started to go and see the unique pieces my colleagues were making for each show. I became completely fascinated by the breadth of all the entries: always a good assortment of artisans try their hand at making something just for this display. Now, it has become one of my favourite parts of the show. The criteria is simple. You (the artisan(s) who own the business – not any of their helpers) must be the maker of the entry, and it must be within the context of your chosen medium.

Me applying a “safe” chemical called “liver of sulphur” to the Maple tree I built out of copper wire. It speeds up the oxidation process, and when you apply it in a hot liquid form, it quickly changes the natural copper colour to a dark grey/black uneven colouring.

So a couple of years ago I decided to participate, to push myself creatively, and see how I would interpret each show’s competition “theme”. Now, I’m completely hooked! I find the entire process to be an interesting creative challenge:  thinking about the theme for a while, considering several possibilities, and then ultimately deciding what to do. It takes me outside my “comfort zone” of creating and pushes me to do things I wouldn’t normally spend my time doing. And for any Maker, that’s a great exercise.

At first, I was underwhelmed at this year’s Spring theme since the whole country seems to be doing something to celebrate Canada’s 150 birthday. I thought it was kind of an “expected” topic. But over time, I began to get in the celebratory mood, realizing that it IS a monumental celebration for the whole country and we should get involved and celebrate.

My copper wire tree, patinated to desired black/gray colour, waxed to seal the darkened colour in and attached to the cut tree limb base by drilling holes and threading the copper wire through the holes. Then more holes are drilled and shorter pieces of copper, wrapped around like roots are glued to the tree limb base.

I’m one of those “methodical” folks. I like to think about things – a lot! Roll an idea around my brain, this way and that. Do a little research to figure out if it sparks my interest further or not. I’ll admit it, I was having trouble coming up with something interesting. I didn’t really want to make a piece of jewellery about it. Not sure why – maybe too corny or something. It just didn’t excite me. But then I realized there are lots of things you can do with wire. Just look at what Alexander Calder did with it!

Degreased and clean pennies, ready to be “patinated” into random red/orange/brown/yellow colours by applying heat with my torch until they are “cherry red” and then immediately dropping them into boiling water to “set” the patination colours.

When the Canadian Government decided to stop producing the penny in 2012, I quietly had an “inside cry”. I know, I know – it cost more to produce than it was worth. But for some reason, it really upset me. So I decided in early 2013 to go to my bank and buy $150.00 worth of pennies. Just because.

Since then, I’ve been slowly sorting through them and I purposely saved every 2012 penny I could find. Guess it was my way of hanging on to them a bit longer. At first, I thought I would make them into bracelet ‘coin’ charms as a keepsake of the last year the penny was produced, but I never did. They’ve been hanging around my studio ever since. I often looked a them and wondered why I was so obsessed with them and what the heck was I going to do with them anyway?

A 1967 Rock Dove penny being heated to “cherry red” to be dropped into the boiling pot of water below, to achieve the red/orange/brown/yellow patina I want.

Then at the end of February, out of nowhere, it hit me. I was on my way to the studio and right out in front of my studio is a Maple tree. As I walked past it and stared up at it’s glorious trunk and bare winter branches, I had a vision: a Maple tree made out of copper wire with 148 Canadian pennies scattered at the bottom like fallen leaves. Two leaves would remain on the tree – the first, a 2012 penny (with the image of the Maple twig on it, like all the others), and the second, a 1967 penny (marking Canada’s Centennial). That’s the only year the mint broke the Maple twig image rule, and instead produced the image of a rock dove to commemorate our 100th anniversary. So that was it for me. That was the idea. Now I just had to execute it.

Pot of pennies in boiling water that have been patinated. Next step is to remove, dry and wax them to seal the patination process.

Sometimes, as an artist, you don’t really know why you go on these tangents. Like why did I have to go to the bank and get all those pennies? I had no idea at the time. I just knew it was something I needed to do. Now I know why – a mere FIVE years later! The creative process is ongoing and endless. All you have to do is follow your heart, use your head, be patient, and things will eventually come together and point you in the right direction.  

So this is how I sing Happy Birthday, in my medium to commemorate the nation. Long live the True North, Strong and Free.

For those of you that can’t make it to the show. Here’s my finished piece.

Hand built copper wire tree that’s been darkened by oxidation, affixed by the copper wire root system to a tree limb base, with 150 patinated Canadian pennies.  All metal has been treated with wax to retain and seal the two different oxidation processes used. 148 pennies are scattered at the bottom of the tree like fallen leaves. Two remain on the tree, one 2012 and one 1967, each housed in a sterling silver penny coin holder, as a monument to the respect I feel for them.

To see my finished One of a Kind Competition piece in the flesh, be sure to visit the Centre Aisle Competition Display at the show. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners will receive $500, $300, and $200. Visitors will be given the opportunity to vote for a People’s Choice Award worth $200. Be sure to cast your vote at the centre aisle!