Sunday, January 25, 2009


By Travis M. Whitehead
SANTA CLARA DEL COBRE - Fire bellowed from the edges of the round copper sheet that Julio Zepeda had just shifted on the furnace. Agitated coals coughed thick gusts of smoke that fled toward openings in the corrugated tin ceiling. Now the sheet began to warp as the 19-year-old Zepeda, in tattered jeans and emerald green shirt, used a pair of tongs to shift the piece on the fire at Cobre El Porton.

A threatening glow spread from the center, the heat endowing the sheet with the freedom to express itself in some new shape. Zepeda, with jewelry piercing both ears, was making a table, one of many he'd crafted since he began working in copper four years ago. "I learned here in the workshop," he said, as his brother, Gustavo, worked on another table nearby, on the second level of the workshop.

Julio and Gustavo both preferred making table tops to some of the other more elaborate pieces; they can complete a top in one day. He pulled the plate from the fire and placed it on the floor where it turned a cool gray before a spackled gold color spread like a fungus across the surface.

Julio, with a cigarette tucked behind either ear, took a brush and swept some debris away from the table, revealing more of the fiery golden color underneath the bleak facade. Only a few minutes after leaving the fire, the plate was cool enough to touch; he used a rope to pull the piece to the second floor where he continued working at it. He flattened the top with a board, then a smaller piece of wood to straighten tighter indentations. "Jesus invited me to work here," added Gustavo, 21, who's been here a little longer. "I liked it, and that's how I started to learn."

While they both enjoy the work, they don't plan to stay here in the copper industry forever. They'd like to opentheir own bakery.
"I used to work for a bakery," Gustavo says. "This takes a lot of time and it's a lot of work, and making bread is easier and you can make more money."

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