Local artist Mark Lee creates copper pieces inspired by nature
Photo by: 
Roberta Marquette
A close up shot of one of Lee's copper flowers currently for sale at Double Shot Cyclery.
A close up shot of one of Lee's copper flowers currently for sale at Double Shot Cyclery.

While others in his high school art classes worked with traditional mediums such as paint and clay, Gunnison’s Mark Lee was drawn to something different.

Already an experienced welder, Lee wanted to expand his skills and delve into copper metal work.

“It’s a unique material,” Lee explained. “I was drawn to its malleability and the ability to color it. Some of the best colors just come from heating it up, where you get those bright reds and blacks.”

The high school art class project soon became a passion for Lee. Now, in between a busy fulltime work schedule and being a father to his young twin girls, Iris and Isabelle, Lee continues to chip away at various pieces of work out of his garage-studio with no plans of slowing down.

 

Drawn to art and working with his hands

Lee was exposed to metalworking very early, as his father was a welder for John Deere. By the time he was 10, Lee was creating his own projects with the material. 

The pull to create didn’t stop with just one medium, however. Lee also found himself drawn to woodworking, stone carving, ceramics and more. 

While he does not have a degree in the field, Lee has racked up a considerable amount of art class credits throughout the years, and even spent some time working as a student teacher in the art department for Johnson County Community College in Kansas City, Mo., and ran the clay department for some time. 

While learning new techniques and teaching young artists, Lee was also traveling to various farmer’s markets to promote himself and his business, “Moonlight Metal.”  

The business promoted his signature hand-crafted copper pieces, ranging from jewelry to landscape inspired sculptures, but also included works made from “found objects” such as stone, wood, and various other objects. 

As he grew older and his artistic techniques continued to evolve, Lee took on another new hobby turned job as a horticulturist and arborist, which he now has a certification in both fields. He even invested in his own greenhouse, growing colorful, tropical plants. 

But the endeavors never distracted Lee from his art. Nature of all kinds has always inspired Lee to create.

 

Curves, shapes and flow

While some may not see a connection between the whimsy of nature and the solidity of metal, Lee is constantly melding the two worlds together.

From bold-colored copper earrings in the shape of delicate leaves to steel bouquets of flowers, the artist is able to transfer the beauty of the natural world into an entirely new, but just as breathtaking vision.

“I’ve always been drawn to what nature has to offer, with all the curves and shape and flow and things like that,” Lee said. “It’s great to get out into nature and see what she has to offer, and then draw from that.”

It’s no surprise then, that as an arborist for Rocky Mountain Trees and Landscaping, Lee continues to be pushed and inspired to create in new, dynamic ways. As an example, the position inspired him to branch out to create items of “functional art” (even though Lee argues all art is functional art) such as decorative fountains and large-scale sculptures.

The change of pace inspired him to expand his business to “Moonlight Metal and Landscaping.” Lee is hoping to continue to experiment with the “functional” pieces more in the future, hopefully branching out into more “kinetic” sculptures that utilize wind, water, and so on.

Mother Nature is the main force behind Lee’s work, but he also draws from the “love and positive energy” his daughters give him. The art of creation is something Lee shares with Iris and Isabelle, as they will often help him with his pieces as well.

The girls’ influence seems to bring good luck to Lee, as the earrings they helped him design to sell at the Double Shot Cyclery have all been purchased.

“It seems like I can’t keep up with production (for the community), so that’s been really cool,” Lee said. “I’m looking forward to double down and crank some stuff out for the future.”

 

(Roberta Marquette can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at roberta@gunnisontimes.com)