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Meet The Maker: Copper Sun Creations

It is so interesting to learn the story behind makers we meet—and Jeffrey Bodwin’s story is so fun to hear! He brings his background of teaching chemistry into his ceramics—Copper Sun Creations. Sidenote: one of our very favorite coffee mugs to enjoy in the morning was created by him. Read on for more!

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I’m originally from northeastern Wisconsin. I was very fortunate to discover a passion for chemistry in high school and I went on to study chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and the University of Michigan before moving to Moorhead to teach chemistry. I find chemistry to be a very creative field, although the type of creativity is not often what people think of when they think of the word, “creative.”

Describe what type of products you make under Copper Sun Creations?

My focus is mostly on functional ceramics— mugs and cups and bowls and plates—but I also make decorative pieces like planters, ceramic magnets, vases, luminaries and incense burners. I also have a line of “Patio Pals” that are ceramic drink covers to keep the bugs out when you’re enjoying a beverage in the great outdoors. Although I do have a few consistent product styles, each item is individually hand-made so they are each unique.

Tell us how you got started with ceramics?

My journey in ceramics began with a class at the Plains Art Museum. My partner and I wanted to share an experience and we had been exposed to the local ceramics community by volunteering with Plants for Patients. By the end of that 8-week class, I knew I had found a life-long passion that complements my interest in chemistry. There’s a lot of chemistry in ceramics, especially in glaze formulations, and it’s always fascinating to see how subtle changes in the chemical composition of a glaze can have a big impact on the appearance of the final product.

What is your personal favorite item you have created?

There have been a number of items that I have really liked, but a few that stand out are a series of cups and mugs that I made to look like bamboo and some of the pieces with a woodgrain pattern hand-carved in the surface. One of the most satisfying parts of the ceramic process for me personally is adding texture to the surface of a piece either by carving in the wet clay or using other techniques to disrupt the smooth surface of the clay. Surface textures interact with the glazes to make unique and interesting patterns in the final piece as the glaze flows and pools in and out of the texture.

What tends to be the most popular item at markets you sell at?

Mugs are probably the most popular pieces, although cups, bowls and bud vases are also popular. I like making bud vases because they are small pieces that allow me to experiment with a wide variety of texture and glaze combinations.

I’m obsessed with a mug I got from you at a market in 2021. What do you think makes the perfect coffee mug?

The perfect coffee mug is a very personal thing and it has to fit the person who uses it. I tell people that a good coffee mug is like a good pair of pants—you can’t tell if they’re going to fit right just by looking at them you have to try them on. A good coffee mug has to feel balanced in your hand, the handle has to match your fingers and the way you prefer to hold the mug, the top opening has to fit your face when you drink and the rim has to feel right on your lips. I’ve also found that everyone has their favorite size – some people prefer a small mug that has to be refilled often because they always want their coffee to be fresh and hot, other people are more like me and want a bucket-sized mug to supercharge their day. When someone buys a mug, I want it to become a natural part of their everyday routine.

What is something people might find surprising about ceramics or typically don’t know about?

Shrinkage. As the clay dries out and is fired, it shrinks by up to 15% depending upon the type of clay and how wet it is. This makes it challenging to make pieces that fit together. It also means that making objects of a specific size or volume is a bit of a guessing game. I make a variety of mug sizes, and even when I’m trying to make a specific volume I can only reliably predict the volume to within about 2 ounces. When I started, I tried to be very precise and got frustrated when I tried to make a 12 ounce mug that ended up being 14 ounces, but now I’ve grown to accept the inherent variability of individually handmade ceramics. Unique pieces are each beautiful in their own way.

What is something you’ve enjoyed the most about doing this handcrafted business?

I really enjoy being able to explore a different type of creativity than I am accustomed to in chemistry. There’s a bit more freedom to explore in ceramics because the rules are less strict. I also like being able to meet and chat with customers and other artists, including former students, in an environment that is less formal than a classroom setting. When I tell someone I’m a chemistry professor, they tend to be a little intimidated, but people are much more relaxed and open when we’re discussing ceramics. I also really like outdoor events, probably because I have been extremely fortunate to have a lot of good weather. Ceramic glazes can look very different in different lighting conditions, and there’s something about bright summer sunlight that really makes some of my pieces come to life.

What is the most challenging thing?

Handles!!! Making and attaching handles is harder than it looks and I’m still trying to find my “signature” handle. Many ceramic artists’ mugs can be recognized by a distinct style of handle, but I am still pretty exploratory in my designs so I haven’t settled into one that I am committed to. A good handle is essential to a comfortable fit, and a bad handle can condemn a mug to a sad life in the back of the cupboard.

What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago?

Get started in ceramics sooner! But seriously, I wish I had allowed myself to be a bit freer in my creative expression. I always tried to be “chemistry creative”, but was very concerned about carefully following rules and fitting into the serious scientist role. Life is too short to not have fun, and playing with fancy mud in my studio is fun!

Where can people find your work?

I set up my tent every Tuesday at the Moorhead Farmer’s Market (3 p.m. to 6 p.m., May 31 through the end of September) as well as assorted other markets and shows like the Fargo Night Bazaar and Moorhead Cruise Night. I haven’t set up a dedicated online store, but I post regularly to Instagram and Facebook with works in progress and show announcements.

Where can we stay connected?:

www.CuSunCreations.com
Instagram/Facebook/Twitter: CuSunCreations

Written by Ashley Morken

Ashley Morken is the owner of Unglued, a modern handmade gift shop featuring over 300 local and regional makers in downtown Fargo. She also a founding member of the Creative Mornings Fargo committee.

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