Tucked away on a quiet residential street in Berkeley, California is the home and studio of Audel Davis, one of America’s great craftsmen. Think Maloof, Stocksdale, Nakashima, only Davis is a coppersmith and his genre is Arts and Crafts. When one hears the phrase, images of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Greene and Greene immediately come to mind, as well they should. The Arts and Crafts movement is important for three reasons: 1. Its values honoring the work and art of the individual craftsman ring true today, 2. One can argue that its early Twentieth Century proponents morphed the style into a native Modernism, as in Frank Lloyd Wright, 3. Its precepts spread across a broad range of disciplines from pottery to architecture. Even though the style as a popular architectural motif faded quickly after WW1, its legacy lives on in many areas of the arts.
Audel Davis’ craft is coppersmithing, the ancient art of hammering a malleable metal sheet into a useful object, often a bowl or tray. Using a steel form, the copper sheet is pounded thousands of times by the smith coaxing it into a useful and hopefully pleasing object. Its seams are then soldered and the object given its patina finish in a chemical bath. The end result is an art object that bears witness of its maker’s hammer and will live on for many generations. One of the Arts and Crafts movement’s key principles is to show and honor the hand of the individual craftsman. Smithing does that in spades. Each strike of the smith’s hammer leaves its imprint.
I first met Davis and his wife while shooting his house as an assignment for a small Arts and Crafts magazine. The house itself was an amazing early Twentieth Century redwood paneled cottage that they had lovingly restored and added on to. Entering the Davis house was almost like visiting a museum. Everywhere you looked were exquisite paintings, furniture, pottery and copper objects of the period. What I later discovered was the fact that most of the metal art objects and some of the furniture in the house were the creations of Audel Davis. He kindly gave us a tour of his compact garage workshop. After the story ran, a group of Arts and Crafts collectors and art buffs approached me to do the photography for a small book on the works of Davis. They wanted to show his work both in period residential settings and on seamless backgrounds. Shooting dates and locations were selected and I began a fascinating photographic journey into another time and aesthetic. This was not the first time I had come across or photographed the work of great Twentieth Century craftsman, but it was the first time that I was immersed in a single arts genre and surrounded by aficionados.
The Arts and Crafts movement may have faded from our cultural memories almost a century ago, but it is certainly alive and well in the hearts and collections of untold numbers of people around the world. What is unique about Davis’ work is the fact that everything is his original design. He does not replicate historical work. Rather he only references the style when creating a completely new object. Almost all of his pieces have an understated elegance with muted patinas, sensuous shapes and delicate textures. The Japanese would call this Shibui, a simple unobtrusive beauty. I feel fortunate to have spent a week capturing it.