Clarkdale, AZ

A Polished Display of Copper’s Uses Through the Ages

Shelves of WWI brass shells hammered into flower designs

At the Arizona Copper Museum over 500 First World War brass shell casings lie in shiny rows, incised and hammered into flower designs by soldiers as souvenirs for sweethearts back home.
PETER NEVILLE-HADLEY/Meridian Writers’ Group

POSSIBLY the first metal that mankind discovered was copper. Like gold it can be found in nuggets on the ground and it has a low melting point, likely appearing as shiny cooking-fire run-offs.

In modern times copper produced wealth for Arizona, the “copper state,” and in particular for Senator W. A. Clark, known as “America’s Copper King.” He invested in developing large but awkwardly placed deposits in arid land now a two-hour drive south of Phoenix, putting in a railroad to move the ore and building not only smelters for mass production, but in 1912 America’s first company town, Clarkdale, to attract and house a workforce in what was the middle of nowhere.

Clarkdale was provided with avenues of well-built houses in everything from mock-Tudor to neo-classical styles, and the best of facilities, including the elegant and solidly built Spanish-colonial Clarkdale High School of 1928. Copper made Clark the richest man in America.

But in the 1950s the copper ran out and people began to move away. Sleepy Clarkdale now mostly survives as a retirement community for those from damper, more expensive corners of the U.S.

In 2002, when copper-art aficionado Drake Meinke was looking for a place to put his collection on public display, there seemed no better site than a town built on copper, and its elegant but empty high school, then up for sale.

Once through the original copper-framed door of what is now the Arizona Copper Art Museum it quickly becomes apparent that this is no fifth-rate roadside attraction brought artificially into existence by a backwater desperate for tourism dollars, but one worth serious consideration, though its obsession with a single subject borders on eccentricity.

The fascinating collection includes genuine Bronze Age (3600-1200 B.C.) artifacts, although the majority of the collection dates from the European Middle Ages onwards. It methodically covers every aspect of copper imaginable, from its chemistry to domestic and industrial uses and its role in causing disease. Ancient jewellery, vast amphorae of copper and copper slipper baths compete for attention with a hammered-copper ceiling, glassware coloured with copper salts and endless racks and shelves of other shiny items. The school’s vast kitchen is hung with pots, pans, serving dishes and elaborate Downton Abbey-style jelly moulds.

The ebullient Meinke himself often greets visitors and sets them off to follow a trail of copper footprints embedded in the floor. He pops up from time to time to add extra background information to already well-labelled displays, such as one of trench art from World War One.

“This was my collection. I was in Europe and I bought all these things in France and Belgium—antique shops, markets, fairs, you name it. Along where the front was, primarily, like the Somme, Amiens, near Metz. They were made by all of the soldiers.”

Over 500 First World War brass shell casings lie in shiny rows, incised and hammered into flower designs as souvenirs for sweethearts back home. Some of their copper content would have originated in the ground outside Clarkdale.



For more information on the Arizona Copper Art Museum go to www.copperartmuseum.com.


For information on travel in Arizona visit Arizona Office of Tourism site at www.visitarizona.com.