Heart of Copper

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.

On a warm, sunny, midsummer day, the Athens air is filled with the sound of chimes clanging together in the wind on Grosvenor Street...

Many of them are pieces crafted by Athens’ own Dan Copper.

The middle-aged man with a long, wiry beard can typically be found on his front porch surrounded by his own masterpieces and crafting the next out of aluminum, glass, wood and copper, eager to greet a passing stranger who takes notice of his work.

“On sunny days, [with my house] so close to the sidewalk, and I sit out there do work and have half a dozen people come by in an evening and stop and talk and ask questions and tell me what they like,” he said, adding that passersby will “occasionally buy something.”

Athens resident Dan Copper has a very creative passion — making art out of other people’s trash. Copper shares his creative process and what it means to him to be a creator, not an artist. Video produced by Jack Hall and Matt Gade

Born to create

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.

dan porch

Copper’s porch stands out among the rest on Grosvenor Street. A hodgepodge of his creations and other odds and ends flood the open space, making it a definite point of interest. Photo by Dylan Benedict

dan window

The marbles Copper uses for his mobiles came from Jabo Inc., a closed marble factory that was based out of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Before they shut down, Copper managed to get two tons of marbles from the factory. Photo by Dylan Benedict

Raiding the dumpster for treasures untold

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."

Dan Copper, local Athens creator

dan porch

Starting when he was 13 years old, Copper has “ran a rock tumbler for over 40 years.” Originally tumbling rocks and minerals, he later moved on to polishing pieces of glass. He has polished salvaged glass from Sky Vodka bottles, old mason jars, art pieces and anything else made of quality glass. Some pieces have even spent up to two months in the tumbler to get the perfect polish. Photo by Dylan Benedict

A creator, a non-conformist — but not an artist

“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.

Made from aluminum tent poles, recycled electrical wire and old turkey pans, this mobile is one of the largest Copper has ever created. It spans about nine feet across and was commissioned by the mayor of Athens, Ohio. Now residing in the Athens City Hall, Copper said he wanted “to hang some interesting fun things in the building” to make visits more enjoyable. Photos by Dylan Benedict

“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

An Unlikely Friendship

Dan's Art

To inquire about Dan’s artwork, email him at danlcopper4@gmail.com