An East Austin Artisan Has Crafted a Cooperative Business Out of an Ancient Art
Of the hundreds of artists and artisans opening their doors to the East Austin Studio Tour weekend, there’s one that’s been around for a while – one whose creations you might’ve seen before – Sertodo Copper.
If you went to ACL Fest this year, you might’ve had a drink mixed out of one of their shakers. If you’re a devotee of Oprah, you might remember seeing their Moscow mule mugs on her list of “favorite things” a couple of years back.
But, the East Austin-based company has been around for 19 years, and has grown to become an international cooperative that ships hand-beaten copper goods all over the world.
Owner Jonathan Beall says all Sertodo’s products – from water pitchers to serving trays to high-end cookware – are made from recycled copper in Mexico.
“Each one of these hammer marks is like a little letter in the words of the story of how this entire piece was created,” he said.
But, the story of Sertodo starts in 1997, when Beall got laid off from his tech job in Austin. He decided to take a trip down to Chihuahua, Mexico, where he first discovered crafting copper.
“It was like I found some kind of lost art or something that had been hidden,” he said.
So, he picked up and moved to Santa Clara del Cobre in Michoacán and, for the next two years, he trained with master artisans to learn the craft.
“My idea was that I was going to become an artist and, over the next kind of year and a half, two years, I kind of realized that making or doing art was really just more about doing what you want to do and being who you want to be,” Beall says. “The whole artistic creative aspect about this endeavor is that we’re just kind of making it up as we go along. It’s a story of constant creation.”
What began on a whim 19 years ago has evolved into an international cooperative consisting of more than 30 artisans. And, Beall says he’s proud that he’s tapped into something meaningful by creating objects that harken back to another time.
“Working in Mexico has given me a completely different sense of time and what is necessary for enjoying life and work,” he says. “There’s no way to really speed up the hammer just falling on a piece of copper, and, so, it gives us like a rhythm to life that’s slower than the modern pace. Although, the modern pace certainly asks us to make a lot of stuff.”
A few years ago, a friend asked Beall if he could make something he’d never heard of at the time: a Moscow mule mug.
It basically looks like a small pail with hammer marks all over – with a stainless steel handle. It was his first introduction to the cultural phenomenon, but he says orders for those mugs quickly multiplied when Oprah picked them for her list in 2014.
“We went from just making four mugs on a whim to making 5,000 mugs within really about a six to eight month period,” Beall says. “And it’s like climbing in to a funny car and going from 0 to 100 in three seconds and really having no idea where the end of the track is.”
But, even now, Beall says he and the artisans work hard to strike a balance.
“We’re just trying to make something that people can appreciate for more than 10 minutes or a year or 10 years,” Beall says. “And, 20 years down the road, they can turn it over and see our touch mark on the bottom and come and visit our shop over here in Austin.”