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Copper maiden works her magic

By on March 31, 2019 in Arts with 0 Comments
With tools and materials lined up and ready to go in her close-to-home studio, Jessica da Costa hopes to grace the region’s rooftops and yards with handcrafted copper weathervanes, including this Copper Fairy Garden weathervane, approximately 15 inches tall.

By Susan Lagsdin

“You don’t need a weatherman

To know which way the wind blows…” 

— Bob Dylan, 

Subterranean Homesick Blues

Nor, frankly, do most of us really need a weathervane on the rooftop. Step outside, watch the trees, check your app.

But Jessica da Costa, who’s based a 20-year career on making the ancient and perennially popular instruments, might disagree. 

She moved from the Methow Valley to Wenatchee last June and set up a small sculpting studio where she creates, as she has for years, a myriad of shapes and sizes of decorative copper weathervanes.

Jessica’s fascination with both copper and with weathervanes stems from an early paid apprenticeship in The New England Weathervane Gallery (she thought she was interviewing for the receptionist’s position; luckily, they placed her instead in the busy production shop.) 

That experience pushed her to experiment with the medium and to delve into the vanes’ long history, on which she bases many of her own designs.  

No longer primarily a tool for farmers and sailors, weathervanes (or “kinetic rooftop art”) have become objets d’art and collector’s items, accruing value as they age. 

Rooftops still proudly display them, but they’re also incorporated into landscaping. Jessica described her tall blue heron that graces the corner post of a Puget Sound view deck, a realistic beaver smack dab on a front lawn, a series of the sculptures strategically positioned throughout a designer garden.

Here are two examples of Jessica da Costa’s art: top, Artemis— Goddess of the Wild copper weathervane, approximately 22 inches tall and copper Strutting Rooster weathervane with hand applied Verdi Gris color on a 24-inch arrow.

A distinct point of pride for this media-savvy, linked-up artist (connected by Instagram, Facebook, her Copper Maiden website, Patreon, etc…) is the totally low-tech process she wholeheartedly embraces. “I love copper… it actually warms to the human touch, and it takes on such beautiful colors as it ages,” said Jessica.

The vanes themselves she loves for the superstition and symbolism of their figures.  “I’m working on my newest myth-inspired weathervane, The Bennu; that’s the Egyptian sun God that inspired the Greek phoenix,” she said.

“They didn’t ever have to be elaborate to show wind direction,” she notes. “It’s amazing that a basic function took on such rich designs.”  

Jessica, first and still a painter, said, “Researching a subject or drawing it from real life study and creating the design is my favorite part.” 

Her completed sketch is eventually transferred to the sheet of pure copper using carbon copy paper, and then Jessica goes to work creating a three-dimensional piece with snippers, narrow chasing tools and an array of hammers.

Her weathervanes are all “cold-worked,” the shapes hand-forged with no heating or welding involved, a machine-free process except for cleaning soldered joints with an air-compressed polisher. And, whether delicate or massive, each copper piece reflects her exacting eye for detail.

Jessica’s own artistic direction may have been blessed with good coincidence, but it was not at the whim of the winds. 

Her grandmother imbued in her a love of art and taught her to draw well as a child, and her Liberty Bell High School art teacher further motivated her creativity. 

After graduation in 1992, intending to study hair and makeup design, she moved to live with her father in Rhode Island and took that pivotal job at the weathervane gallery.

Her eventual return to her Methow roots meant exposure for her copper work in an arts-rich community with coastal connections. 

Even while raising two children, she kept at it. Interest in her pieces at farmers’ markets, museums and galleries gave her confidence to aim for westside arts fairs, juried exhibits and home shows like the upcoming Arts in Bloom in Seattle.

Jessica’s consistent success — and the encouragement of friends — spurred her to at last drop the security of occasional unrelated jobs and declare as a professional artist. 

She’s created two commissioned public art pieces: the Methow Valley Firefighters Memorial and Wenatchee’s Art on the Avenue. 

Online or in exhibition, her vanes catch attention, and she was awarded Emerging Artist award at Best of the Northwest Seattle Fine Art and Craft show in 2017.

In Wenatchee, her mate’s home city, she and her family are settling in.  

She’s gladly connecting with other area artists, and with the tools of her trade at hand and a well-equipped work space, Jessica is living up to her own artistic promises.  

About her professional art life, she said, “I realized I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone else… I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do this.”

The popularity of her weathervanes has allowed Jessica to point herself again in a new personal direction — designing flat wall art, copper relief overlaid with metal paint, gold leaf and antiquing compounds that add rich texture and the variety of patinas that only copper can create. She envisions creating whole landscapes of cosmology: starbursts, swirls of suns and nebulae.

Jessica, now 45, says she’s happy with the direction(s) she’s chosen. “When I went for full time art, everything started falling in place — it was scary to take the leap, and honestly it still is — but when I finally did, I did the work, and the work came to me.”

Luna Sea copper mermaid weathervane with metal paint details, approximately 22 inches long.

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