Richard Mills is intrigued by copper. – “Copper is an amazing material”, he says. “It can be formed, modeled, stretched and compressed from flat sheets into almost any shape, and can be transformed into many sculptural forms by welding, brazing, soldering, riveting, and bolting.” – This fascination reflects his early interest in anything mechanical.
Richard is a second generation Californian, born and raised in Ventura. His family was always busy with projects, so he grew up with tools and learned how to use them. Richard was a photographer for his high school’s yearbook and newspaper, and credits his high school photography teacher, Dennis MacArthur, with teaching him about composition, shape, balance, depth, and color.
Richard’s transition to art began in junior college. When he transferred to San Jose State, he had Wendall Gates as his sculpture instructor and became “hooked” on three-dimensional work. The Army drafted him during his junior year, and he served in Schweinfurt, Germany for a year and a half, where he ran a Regimental Training Aids Center. By accumulating leave, he was able to travel extensively in Europe, visiting the museums, churches, and public buildings of several countries and observing the work of regional artists and craftsmen. These experiences expanded his knowledge and perspective.
Richard returned to San Jose State, graduating with a B.A. in Art Education in 1961. He continued his education at San Jose State, taking graduate courses in Sculpture. San Jose State had no foundry, but two friends had begun to explore foundry work, and had done some casting by the time that Richard joined them. Richard and another student eventually rented a vacant, 5000 square foot factory close to the University. Richard recalls, “The factory had a couple of restrooms, but no living quarters, so we transformed an office and storage room into two apartments, moved in, and refurbished the foundry area. He got married. I got married. He took a teaching job in Oregon. For the next three years my wife and I ran the art foundry, casting the work of students and other artists, in addition to my sculpture and architectural commissions. I also worked in welded copper. By the time our wonderful home, studio, and foundry was demolished to make way for Highway 280 we were capable of pouring 250 pounds of bronze. I was selling through galleries in northern and southern California and had been in numerous shows.”
Following the loss of his studio and foundry, Richard and his wife moved to Los Gatos, and Richard took a job as a graphic artist at San Jose State. He rented industrial space in San Jose and set up a foundry, but this never worked well. He eventually abandoned the effort and focused on his work at San Jose State’s Instructional Resources Center until his retirement.
After retiring, Richard and his wife moved to Calaveras County and he began creating welded copper vessels again. This work is intensive, as the copper pieces must be annealed many times to make them pliable while their shape is formed by compressing, stretching, and folding. Welding and brazing join the pieces and any copper embellishments, and the vessel’s surface is engraved, peened, or ground. The vessel is then power buffed, washed, degreased, patined, hand buffed, and waxed to arrest oxidation.