A Copper Vessel Sink Reflects Culture, Tradition and Humanity
Naomi Neilson Howard, Founder and CEO
I will never forget the day I met the man whom I would eventually deem “El Maestro.” Wandering along a cobblestone street in one of the many small, artisan-centric villages in central Mexico, I passed an ancient peeling doorway and caught a glimpse of something wonderfully different. Inside an obscure, windowless room were the most exquisite hammered copper vases I had ever seen.
With the seeds of Native Trails already germinating, I was familiar with many Mexican artisans and their handicrafts, but these vases stood apart in the texture of the hammer marks, the coloration of the copper, and their shapes – so artfully formed. Yet it was even more than that. This particular artisan’s rare combination of humility and extraordinary skill—channeled into the understated elegance of his work—is what inspired our Maestro Collection and what makes it unique today.
In the days when Native Trails focused entirely on home accents rather than fixtures and furniture, these glorious copper vases were a perfect fit for our customers—mostly art and folkart galleries and boutiques, museum gift shops, and fine furniture stores. And they were very well received.
Over time, our core offerings transitioned from copper vases and décor to copper bathtubs, bathroom sinks, and copper kitchen sinks, with the intent to marry function with the beauty of hammered copper. Our wonderful Maestro artisan family was able to take our simple, well-proportioned copper vessel sink designs and turn them into true masterpieces. It takes an average of 30,000 hammer strikes on a single copper vessel sink to pull that off—no small feat!
How El Maestro Brings Life to the Maestro Collection
Each copper bathroom sink in the Maestro Collection is made over several days—using the centuries-old traditions of El Maestro and his family. First, the copper material (usually copper pipes and other copper parts ideal for repurposing) is melted down at a foundry in a heavy crucible. Then the purified, molten copper is poured into a mold to harden and cool, and then broken into wedge or brick-like ingots. The ingots are flattened and eventually hammered into their final forms as round or oval copper bathroom sinks.
Various types of hammers are used, depending on what stage in the process the sink has reached; a polishing hammer gives the sink its final luster and texture. Throughout the hammering process, giant tongs are used to pick up the sink and place it back in the fire until it glows red-hot. At that point, it is brought back to the anvil, which has been sunk into a very heavy tree stump to provide both stability and a work surface, and the hammering continues until the piece has cooled and needs to be softened once again by the flames.
The walls of these copper bathroom sinks are made from heavy 14-15 gauge copper, offering them extra heft and texture and also ensuring that the artisan is able to create the highly esteemed “borde grueso.” This thick edge, found on all Maestro Collection copper vessel sinks, is made only by the most skilled coppersmiths—but even the most skilled must be willing to take the time required to create it. Almost like clay, the copper is “massaged” upward by the hammer during the formation and hammering process, to ensure that the top rim of the sink—just like those hammered copper vases I discovered years ago—ends up thicker than the walls. With a grace that is anchored by strength, these sinks are made to endure the test of time.
Lost and Found: Copper Artisanship That Makes Time Stand Still
From time to time I meet someone who is skeptical that the hammering on these copper bathroom sinks is actually done by hand; I understand their doubt. It truly is remarkable that a human hand can be so precise, thousands and thousands of times over. Yet it is so. Centuries of tradition and an inherent appreciation for the art created by their own hands results in some of the most outstanding examples of copper workmanship that exist.
Today I still love visiting El Maestro’s workshop. There, I find inspiration and reassurance of my purpose at the helm of this company I started when I was that young girl, footloose and enchanted in Mexico. It smells like earth and fire, and as the chickens—among the few lucky chickens in the world to drink from copper vessel sinks—run around, their squawking combines with the steady beat of hammers striking copper.
Seeing our copper sinks in various stages of production never fails to impact me. I watch the magic happen as the artisan’s hammer falls upon the copper bathroom sink time and time again, and there is a sense that a part of him is left with every strike—his joys, frustrations, triumphs all expressed through his work. That transformation from flat, dull copper sheet to lustrous, glimmering copper vessel sink is nothing short of miraculous.
Naomi Neilson Howard is the founder and CEO of Native Trails, the premier source for functional, earth-friendly products for the kitchen, bath and home. She has spent the last twenty years creating beautiful, life-enhancing products with artisans in Mexico, the United States, and abroad.