Copper is a chemical element in the periodic table. It has the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. Copper occupies the same family of the periodic table as silver and gold since they each have one s-orbital electron on top of a filled electron shell. This similarity in electron structure makes them similar in many characteristics.
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. The phenomenon of patina is perhaps the most exciting and aesthetically important thing about copper for the artist (this one, anyway!)
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 of 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 an estimated 61 years supply of copper left.
At RICHARD HAWK STUDIO and COPPERHAND STUDIO, years of working with copper have brought us an awed respect for, and joy in working with, this extraordinary metal of the earth.