Brassy Arizona pioneers showed their true mettle when they forged the territory’s copper mining industry in the late 19th century. From avaricious pipedreams rose the famous Copper Queen claim in Bisbee, the vertigo inducing cliff-side operations of Jerome, and the vast pits of Morenci, the third largest copper mine in the world. Truly, Arizona’s history and legends can be unearthed from its mining culture.
Today, Arizona is the largest copper-producing state in the U.S., heaving up 60-70 percent of the nation’s output. It is also a prodigious supplier of the copper-based mineral, turquoise, which jewelry aficionados will appreciate for giving the Southwest its distinctive blue-green chic.
The state may be better known for the Grand Canyon, but a copper star rightfully has pride of place in the center of the state flag. To top things off, the Arizona state capitol building is capped in copper.
Celebrating this heritage is the Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale (a former smelting town near Jerome), which traces the metal’s pedigree around the world and through the millennia, presenting galleries filled floor to ceiling with thousands of objects from the past 500 years.
Botticelli’s Venus greets visitors in one room as a reminder that her astrological symbol (and the symbol for sexual desire) is also the alchemist’s symbol for copper. Pots and pans festoon another room representing copper’s role in serving different appetites, and a stillness fills the air in the drinkware collection gallery. Not to be missed is the military art collection which features “trench art” from World War I and II. On display are brass artillery shell casings intricately carved into works of ironic sublimity by soldiers while they waited between paroxysms of battle.
In Clarkdale, the story of copper is the full story of the human condition. To “Cu” there would only make cents.
Know Before You Go
Clarkdale is 16 miles SW from Sedona; the museum is in the center of town on historic route 89A.