All That Sparkles Is Not Gold – Sometimes It’s Copper. The Copper Art Museum, Clarkdale, AZ

Posted on November 17, 2014



In the background: The Art and Architecture Room displays a dormer from the Carnegie Mansion in New York City.

The Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale, AZ makes this small town sparkle.

While it’s not billed as the world’s largest collection of copper art, it is enough to literally stun a visitor, both in numbers and diversity.

The words “Art” and “Copper” may seem a strange combination, as copper is most often thought of as a metal used industrially, as well as for utilitarian domestic uses such as pots and pipes.

But the ubiquitous copper Jell-O molds of the 1950’s and 60’s are but a tiny part of the way this red metal has been used over the ages to make everyday items of sculptural beauty.

But first, why is this museum in Clarkdale, a little town with a population of around 4,000?

Even utilitarian objects can be works of art.

Even utilitarian objects can be works of art.

It all started when a group of long-time copper collectors started looking for an exhibit space to display what they had gathered over the years.

“In the 1990s several of us got together to decide what to do with a large collection of copper,” Clarkdale resident Drake Meinke explained to the Verde Register in 2012. “I was tasked with finding a place for a museum somewhere in the United States.”

Michigan was eliminated because of the weather, and Montana discarded because of its history of strip mining.

The end choice was Clarkdale, a former company-town founded and built in 1912 by Senator W. A. Clark, “America’s Copper King”, for the mass-production of industrial copper. Clark’s mines were active from 1915 to 1953.

Trench art from World War I and II - vases made by soldiers from artillery shell casings.

Trench art from World War I and II – vases made by soldiers from artillery shell casings.

An enormous amount of copper ore has been extracted from the mines of Arizona – and is still being extracted today. The value is in the billions of dollars, which is why Arizona is often referred to as the Copper State.

The group eventually chose the town’s beautiful – and vacant – Art Deco former high school, built in 1927.IMG_0889

DSCN1806 The building itself forms the perfect backdrop for an outstanding collection that includes the history of copper and its alloys – brass and bronze; trench art utilizing brass artillery shells; and an overwhelming array of glittering pots, kettles, drinking vessels, cooking utensils, and arcDSCN1798hitectural decorations.

This big hunk of raw copper came from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. .

This big hunk of raw copper came from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. .


Floor vase from a "Big Bertha" German artillery shell.

Floor vase from a “Big Bertha” German artillery shell.

Posted in: Travel - Arizona