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Made in St. Louis : Bonnie Shopper

Bonnie Shopper from Clayton poses for a portrait with a few of her enamel creations on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, for the Made in St. Louis column. Photo by Johnny Andrews, jandrews@post-dispatch.com

BONNIE SHOPPER 

Home • Clayton

Family • Married with three kids and six grandchildren

What she makes • Bonnie is the owner of Bonnie Shopper Enamels. She makes enamel serving trays, bowls, trivets, wall hanging budvases and switch plates. You can find her items at shopperenamels.com and at American Visions Contemporary Crafts in St. Louis.

• Tell us about yourself. I was born, raised and educated in New York City. I had never entertained thoughts of being an artist or craftsperson. Music, yes. But art? Never. Before my kids, I was working as a recreational therapist in New York's Memorial Hospital for Cancer. I was asked to "teach" enameling to patients. Intrigued by the process and results, I learned on the job, attended an enameling class at Brooklyn Museum Art School, and bought my own kiln and began experimenting with enamels at home. Because I had very little formal training in enameling, I have developed styles and techniques that seem to be uniquely my own.

• How long have you been working with enamels? After enameling for 20 years, I completely stopped for 25 years and went back again five years ago. I find that my standards are different now. I approach the medium differently, and I thoroughly enjoy the process and results.

• Tell us the process. Copper enameling is a marvelous medium in which to work. Successive firings of powdered glass (enamel) onto the copper add to the design and colors. The results are relatively rapid: Each firing in a preheated 1,500-degree kiln may take only two minutes. The piece is removed, allowed to cool, then cleaned and prepared for the next layer of enamel to be applied and fired. Each layer, each firing, affects and changes the piece. Sometimes the piece just tells me what it needs, sometimes it's my decision. When heated, bare copper will oxidize. I often include some oxidation in my design; the oxidation defines the forms and creates more intensity. I may use a torch to melt the edges of a bowl before enameling it; I like the juxtaposition of the rough dark torched edge with the smooth elegance of the enamel. I sometimes change the copper shape by hammering it, but most times I use the preshaped forms as they are.

• Why enamels? It's just an exciting medium to work with. Results are immediate (in that each firing takes perhaps two minutes). As the piece cools and the colors change, I get an idea about what the next layer of enamel should be. Using transparent colors brings out a gemlike brilliance and great depth of color and even now, I'm often astonished and delighted as I watch a piece cool and see the finished results. Enamels are durable. They make unique gifts that will last forever. The color will not fade with time, nor will its texture.

• Tell us your prices. Bowls and platters range from $45 to $400.

• What are your interests? Music and art. I'm also interested in our world and our efforts to save it.

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