The coppersmith: Master of an ancient craft

If ever you go to Santa Clara del Cobre, the little copper-crafting town in Michoacán, Mexico, be sure to visit the workshop of Maestro Abdón Punzo Ángel.

Santa Clara del Cobre is located in the center of the state of Michoacán, Mexico, 79 km from the state capital of Morelia. While the official name of the municipality is Salvador Escalante, and the town is often marked on maps as Villa Escalante or Salvador Escalante, it is widely known as Santa Clara del Cobre: “Saint Claire of the Copper”.

The region’s Purépecha people have been working copper since the pre-Hispanic era and their dominion over copper crafts lasted throughout the colonial period (1519–1821) until well into the 19th century. Economic reverses led to the industry’s near-demise until efforts in the late 20th century reverses the decline. Today the town is a beacon for anyone interested in metalwork.

The Punzo family of Santa Clara del Cobre contains two of the best known copper and silver smiths in the town. The family is descended from the coppersmith Carlos Punzo Córdoba and is represented today by the brothers Abdón Punzo Ángel (right) and Ignacio Punzo Ángel, each of whom has his own workshop in which their sons and grandsons work and learn the craft.

The smiths use traditional methods in open-air workshops. Hammers, tongs and other tools are scattered on rough walls and tables and the copper is heated in a large wood-fired forge. Copper is no longer mined in the region, so the raw material is scrap metal from old cars and cables bought from telephone and electrical companies. Almost all the artworks are hammered into shape from a single piece of copper, including handles or decorative figures such as a lizard – shaped from the inside outward. Fine details are added by chiselling and engraving.

Abdón Punzo Ángel’s workshop/gallery is called El Arte del Cobre on Morelos Street. He is considered to be one of the best coppersmiths in Santa Clara del Cobre. Maestro Punzo and his sons have won many awards for their work, but they retain the dignity and simplicity of people who know the intrinsic worth of what they do.

Long ago the English poet and writer D. H. Lawrence tried to describe what could be sensed in works of the kind brought to life by Maestro Abdón Punzo Ángel:

“Things that men have made with wakened hands,
and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch,
and go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.”

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One comment on “The coppersmith: Master of an ancient craft

  1. D. shakya says:

    hi master punzo angel, i really appreciate your traditional technics of working on copper sheet….hats off to you.
    i am from nepal, a southeast asian country and i am also an artist of a metalsheet and we have a similar technics of doing works with similar hammers, anvils,chisels and tools. so, i would really like to be in contact with you master.
    please e-mail me – artnepal@mail.com
    hope to receive your mail soon, cause i can’t find your mailing address.

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