Master of copper art will headline The Union’s ‘100% Design’ show |

Master of copper art will headline The Union’s ‘100% Design’ show

David Burns works in his shop in Rough and Ready Tuesday morning.
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

Know & Go

What: 100% Design – Home Design & Inspiration Show

When: 1-8 p.m. Oct. 21, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 22

Where: Foothills Event Center, 400 Idaho Maryland Road, Grass Valley

Admission: $10, includes one beverage at the bar, sponsored by Nevada County Habitat for Humanity (a portion of the proceeds goes to NC Habitat for Humanity)

For info:

“I want you to build me a life-size oak tree out of copper,” the woman said. “Inside my home!”

In the more than 20 years artist David Burns has operated Copper Gardens from his studio in the historic mining community of Rough and Ready — creating everything from imaginative wall hangings to fountains, lighting, elaborate gates and furniture – even he was rocked on his heels by the challenge.

And not only would the tree need to reach a height of about 14 feet within the home, its branches would extend to roughly 10 feet on each side. Plus, strategically placed knotholes engineered by Burns would contain LED lights shining upon selected pieces of art chosen by the homeowner.

Burns, a headliner in The Union’s “100% Design” show in late October, recalls appearing in a bygone home and garden show in Sacramento when his prospective client first visited his booth with a friend, hurriedly scanning his craftsmanship and picking up his business card.

“When I take on a project like this. I make certain that the client is ready to stick with me. And that they can afford to carry it though to the end.”David Burns

“I’ll be in touch,” she said, and hurried off. The next time he heard her voice was months later, over the telephone: “Are you the man who had a display of copper art objects in the Sacramento Home and Garden Show?”

She’d lost his business card, but had tracked him down.

They met soon afterward, Burns scanning the rooms being remodeled in the spacious Fair Oaks home where the tree would grow and meander. Eventually, he created wall panels of exactly the same dimensions within his high-ceilinged studio to create the sculpture.

“When I take on a project like this,” Burns smiles, shaking his head, “I make certain that the client is ready to stick with me. And that they can afford to carry it though to the end.”

She qualified. And was a frequent visitor to the studio as work commenced.

Burns’ wife, Annie, smiles at the memory of the woman visiting the studio and wrapping her arms around the tree’s trunk in a long, warm embrace: “She absolutely loved it. Her comment was, ‘He got into my mind.’”

A master at creating life-like foliage in copper, Burns was curious how many leaves would be needed. “None,” was the answer, because the owner didn’t want to conceal the artistry of the trunk and limbs. But a compromise was reached to have enough to conceal where limbs joined.

While it’s unlikely that a project of this scale will result from his appearance in the upcoming “100% Design” show, Burns is open to ideas. “No matter how wild they may be, these projects keep my mind and body active.”

Metal working has been his craft for a long time. Now 74, he began by shaping automotive panels while racing Alfa Romeo automobiles. That passion eventually branched out into other artistic endeavors and at first he focused on creating imaginative wooden structures for gardens and gates for driveways.

“But I realized that wood only lasts for so long,” Burns explains, and then toyed with the idea of moving into metal. Copper intrigued him. The die, as they say, was cast.

And it’s unlikely that even he could forecast what paths his journey would pursue. One client, for example, had a yen for timber bamboo. Could Burns make a full living room set to match the South Sea Island décor of his home?

The result is a show-stopper. It looks as if the sofa, chairs and end tables were created with bamboo and then simply copper plated. No, the bamboo was hammered into shape from copper pipe, using tools that are often one-of-a-kind, created by Burns.

Keep in mind that copper is a relatively soft metal and it must be skillfully strengthened with the design and joinery methods while maintaining the artistic merit.

“Art is the dominating factor,” Burns nods.

In this vein he has created new forming techniques that will be on display at the show. One is “free casting” to form tables by melting and pouring scrap copper into varying shapes. “It’s hard for me to explain without showing it off,” Burns concludes.

And what will his next project be? Those attending the “100% Design” show are welcome to challenge his imagination. An idea of what skills he has to offer may be seen at

Dick Tracy is a former garden columnist for The Union and the Sacramento Bee. He lives on the family ranch in Grass Valley.

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