The Guild: James Mattson, Coppercraft

Copper Artistry in Lighting.
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
James Mattson with a row of custom lanterns; the interior silhouette of a sunset over a landscape is visible only when the lanterns are lit.

James Mattson with a row of custom lanterns; the interior silhouette of a sunset over a landscape is visible only when the lanterns are lit.

Always good with his hands, James Mattson had built Arts & Crafts furniture for his home, but he couldn’t find affordable original lighting. Smitten by a vintage Limbert lamp in copper, mica, and oak, he tried building his own, his guide a Popular Mechanics article from 1910 on how to make Arts & Crafts lampshades. The first one turned out so well that friends began asking for lamps—and, eventually, making etched copper-and-art glass lamps became a business for this writer and former cartoon animator.

Trees, hills, and water in the ‘Landscape’ table lamp suggest the Pacific Northwest, where the artist was born.

Trees, hills, and water in the ‘Landscape’ table lamp suggest the Pacific Northwest, where the artist was born.

His signature lampshade designs usually feature copper overlays of trees silhouetted against art glass. “I’m conservative with color. I use a white-honey or light-amber art glass. My lamps look correct for 1910,” reflecting period simplicity.

Other items include switch plates, plaques and bookends, clocks, and clock faces he makes in collaboration with Jim Dailey of Present Time Clocks.

The etched copper switch plates come in Art Nouveau and Craftsman designs.

The etched copper switch plates come in Art Nouveau and Craftsman designs.

His copper designs are never cut. Instead, Mattson uses traditional acid etching to create intricate patterns. The process is akin to batik, in which a pattern on the ground material—in this case, a thin sheet of copper—is covered with a protective coating, leaving the voids to be eaten away by the acid. “I use plastic now, but that 1910 article said to use asphaltum paint,” Mattson reports. “At the end of the process, I peel the plastic off and the metal design is left underneath.” Sometimes the copper is etched away entirely to create a silhouette. Or it is removed in layers, creating a bas-relief pattern.

A closeup of the acid-etched edges and patina on a James Mattson Coppercraft lamp.

A closeup of the acid-etched edges and patina on a James Mattson Coppercraft lamp.

Based near Los Angeles, Mattson keeps his hand in the film industry. He’s written a Disney children’s book and a script for a Hallmark movie. Switching between copperwork and writing “keeps me sane and balanced,” he says.

“One hundred years from now, no one will remember the writing I’ve done, but people will still be using my lamps.”

James Mattson
James Mattson Coppercraft
(818) 352-9225
jamesmattson.com

Art + Craft - this week's picks