Can you imagine a snake’s rattle in a ring? What about a piece of bone in a brooch, set amidst karat gold, sterling silver and precious gemstones? In the hands of metalsmith and artist Andy Cooperman, these everyday items take on another life as lush, unexpected pieces of jewelry.
As a kid, Andy had an fondness for small-scale, intimate objects and a knack for building things like model airplanes and cages for his lizards and frogs. Those affinities are still apparent in his work today, which is underpinned by a sense of magic. His pieces are strange yet beautiful universes unto themselves, each meticulously imagined and engineered.
He found his medium early on and by happenstance. In college, he spent a lot of time in the art department, where he stumbled upon the jewelry and metalsmithing classrooms. “It was a whole new dimension of making,” he says. “I wasn’t very good it at it, and I think that challenge kept me coming back.”
Karat gold combines workability, a range of colors and a sense of history and tradition that Andy finds appealing. His work often incorporates 18K gold and 14K white or rose gold, in combination with items not usually seen alongside the metal.
“I enjoy working with different tones of gold and how they contrast with darker tones of other materials, such as plastics and other substances,” he says. “I like to use compositions of 18K gold, sterling, bronze, cremains and watch crystals, which have been used in commissioned projects such as ‘Reliquary Neckpiece.’ Gold is a wonderful material, so loaded with tradition and history.”
In his commissioned work, sleek lines and hand-forged and fabricated forms dominate. In exhibition pieces, he treats the material more irreverently, heating sheet until it nearly melts and then poking or tearing holes in the center.
“I like the idea of a precious metal treated so brutally,” he says. If I had to name it, I guess I would call it controlled chaos.”
Working in gold and jewelry also gives him a sense of connection to the long line of humans who have worked the precious metal to adorn themselves and others.
“As a species, we’ve been with jewelry in some way from the beginning,” “From the first time someone slipped a shell or stone or piece of wood—anything with a hole in it—over their finger. Today, I think that wedding rings make a difference in people’s lives. Especially custom rings. As really clever primates, our hands define us. Wearing something on our hand made by the skilled hands of another is pretty special.”
In addition to creating jewelry and lecturing around the country on his craft, Andy teaches seminars and workshops, helping students develop problem-solving skills that enhance their creativity. His work is on permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Central College in Pella, Iowa. He is also a finalist in the 2017 Saul Bell Design Award competition for his piece Rattlesnake Ring (seen above). More of his work can be seen at www.andycooperman.com.