A passion for sustainability and creativity shines through the artwork of Athens’ own Dan Copper, a local creator with a backstory almost as colorful as the glass-marble mobiles he crafts.
His father being a classically trained musician and his mother a prima ballerina, creativity naturally runs through Copper’s veins.
“When I was so young that I had to hold myself up on the edge of the crib — the playpen — I would boogie my little butt off to the classical string quartets all the time,” Copper said.
Born with a moniker he declines to share, a childhood name change was the result of exuberant creativity and no real tie to his given last name. His alias allows his art to truly be a part of his self-identity.
Copper acknowledges that because he’s been a creator since childhood, many of his projects have a certain “feel" to them. He admits finding new ideas after so many years can be a challenge.
“When I get stuck for ideas, sometimes ... I go back and look at the very oldest things I have and think, ‘You know, was there an avenue — was there a direction I didn't pursue here?’ And then I try to do those,” he said.
For Copper, his creative outlet comes not just in the form of a finished project, but also from the process of gathering materials for each masterpiece. He is constantly on the hunt for discarded items and he delights in turning another’s “trash” into various forms, such as wind chimes, earrings, mobiles or copper designs.
“You never know what you're gonna find. There's a lot of [trash], and sometimes I am directly inspired by what I find,” he said, adding that “taking stuff out of the waste stream” motivates him to keep creating on the rare days when inspiration is lacking.
“Waste appalls me. People just don't make any effort. You know, you work hard for the things you buy,” he said. “People spend their whole lives doing jobs — a lot of the jobs they really don't like — to buy stuff that they just throw away.”
"You never know what you're gonna find. There's a lot of [trash], and sometimes I am directly inspired by what I find."
“I don't often use that word [artist] applied to myself,” he said. “I call it ‘my creative work.’ I'm not sure how I would define art ... for me, it's, well, it's the most important thing in my life really. If my creative work means nothing, my life means nothing.”
Copper, who’s held many odd jobs over the years, decided a few years ago to turn his passion for creative projects into a business, oftentimes attending festivals and fairs to sell his artwork.
While he’s a very hands-on creative person, Copper admits his minimal lifestyle without social media and the internet presents obstacles to selling his work, so he relies mostly on word-of-mouth referrals.
"I'm not sure how I would define art... for me, it's, well, it's the most important thing in my life really."
One of Copper’s more noticeable pieces includes the mobile hanging inside the Athens City Hall building. Because it was installed at the same time public facilities in Ohio began to close in March 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, publicity for the piece has been limited.
“I've never really been that sales-oriented. But between the festivals, and reuse industries and the mayor's mobile, things were starting to really look like they were going to work,” he said. “With the mayor's mobile, he was talking [about] photo opportunities, calling in the newspapers, putting up a plaque and of course, [pandemic restrictions] shut [everything] down.”
Regardless of a lack of exposure, Copper continues to sell his art by welcoming visitors to his porch where fresh air and social distancing provide what he considers adequate protection from the virus.
Dan Copper shares a step-by-step creative process for building one of his signature marble mobiles. Animation by Amanda Weisbrod