Vessel with Fish
by Ramon Ramirez
Santa de Clara de Cobre, Mexico
Hand hammered copper
10" high x 10" diameter
The town of Santa Clara del Cobre in Michoacán, Mexico is renowned for its incredible copper vessels. Every step of the process of transforming the raw copper material to a finished piece is done entirely by hand. Not only is each piece made by hand, but the process is extremely laborious, in many cases requiring a full month or more of daily work.
The process consists of repeated heating and hammering the raw copper first into a mass, and then into the desired shape, finally ending with the process of a hammered finish. The work requires “talento y esfuerza”--not only skill, but great strength and endurance, as it may take hundreds of thousands of hammer blows in order to complete one large piece.
The indigenous people of Michoacán were working with copper long before the arrival of the Spanish. The revered archbishop Vasco de Quiroga, attempting to foment commerce in the region, urged the coppersmiths of Santa Clara to make cazos, or large cooking pots. These pots are still used for cooking today all over Mexico.
The copper mines played out about fifty years ago, and today most of the 10,000 tons of copper that comes into Santa Clara each week arrives in the form of recycled copper wire and cable from electric and telephone companies. The price has been going up and up, and it is getting harder to find the raw material.
In 1946, a group of local artisans in Santa Clara del Cobre organized the first Copper Fair, which continues to be held every year in August. The fair, which features numerous cash prizes to winning artisans, has helped to revitalize the art form by encouraging the production of unique, one of a kind works.
The copper artisans and their work are celebrated as the center of this community's economic and cultural life.