A Cornish metalsmith is keeping the art of coppersmithing alive

Work by Silversmith Shelley Anderson

Work by Silversmith Shelley Anderson - Credit: Shelley Anderson

Cornish metalsmith Shelley Anderson is keeping the art coppersmithing alive - and his work is earning him international attention. 

Born and brought up in West Cornwall, Shelley first started toying with metal in his dad’s garage. This eventually led him to Falmouth College of Art to train in Silversmithing and Metal Fabrication. 

To fund his studies, he designed and produced a range of jewellery and marine life sculptures, including lobsters and swordfish, made entirely from recycled cutlery. A QEST Scholarship supported him during an apprenticeship at Newlyn’s The Copper Works in 2011 and since then he has worked on pieces for Disney, Harrods and Hilton amongst others, and regularly teaches. 

Silversmith Shelley Anderson in his Newlyn Studio

Metalsmith and artist Shelley Anderson in his studio - Credit: Shelley Anderson

Alongside his popular marine life sculptures, he is currently working on metal wall art influenced by the mechanical and industrial workings of his home town of Newlyn. Fascinated by the colours and textures that are possible in metal, he shapes sheet bronze by hand, working with the metal's natural movement and patinas layered over time to create an organic effect. As chemical reactions take place, set in resin are the crystals that have formed like barnacles, the finished work strongly reminiscent of the sea. 

Shelley uses new and innovative techniques to compliment his traditional metal working skills. Inspired by roaming the coastline and landscape of West Cornwall, he lives and works in the industrial fishing port of Newlyn. Which you can see aspects of in his work. 

‘Understanding the science, techniques and skills that go into producing a piece interest me as much as the finished article,’ he says. ‘I love the process from inspiration to ideas and - sometimes - failures.’ 

Work by Silversmith Shelley Anderson

Shelley increasingly works in wall art - Credit: Shelley Anderson

‘At The Copper Works we used a copper tank to quench hot metal, with more and more dust and metal being added year by year. One summer the tank dried out an array of vibrant colours were revealed. Being surrounded by brown copper tones for so long I remember the surprise and thrill of discovering these colours growing from that dark environment. 

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‘This was the spark of inspiration that led me to the process I use now. Like how landscapes or coastlines are created, I wanted an outcome that was a combination of a few simple elements that I could use to make something that to me looks as though it has grown itself.’ 

Increasingly his work mimics natural decay of metals. ‘Once created by man they have been reclaimed by nature like the carcasses of decommissioned fishing boats or rusty mining relics. Battered and scarred and eaten away by the sea.’ 

Work by Silversmith Shelley Anderson

The aged patina colour of copper is instantly familiar - Credit: Shelley Anderson

He continues to be inspired by his home town. ‘Its quarry and its harbour have deeply influenced my work,’ he says of Newlyn. ‘I shape sheet bronze by hand, working with the metals natural movement. Like water tension, every stretch or shrink affects the rest of the metal. Patinas layered over time creating an ancient and organic effect. As chemical reactions take place, set in resin are the crystals that have formed like barnacles or layers of flaked forgotten paint. The colours are reminiscent of Newlyn and its coastline.’ 

Rather than beginning with a design in mind, the process is the starting point. ‘An idea takes its path and is worked on over months, my thoughts layered onto a piece becomes more complex over time than something I have planned out from the start.’ 

Spending months on each piece, when does he know when a piece is completed? ‘I go through a love/hate relationship with each one through the months it spends in my studio and it can take time to see it through fresh eyes. 

Work by Silversmith Shelley Anderson

Shelley first began creating intricate sculpture from recycled cutlery - Credit: Shelley Anderson

Shelleyandersonart.com 

You can also see his work at The Lighthouse Gallery, Circle Contemporary and McKay and Williamson galleries.