A State of Copper
A family of artists strike gold with their Michigan-mined art
By Al Parker | Aug. 29, 2020
A family of Michigan artists is gaining quite a reputation for their use of Upper Peninsula copper in their eye-catching creations.
Alex and Becky Teselsky, along with their son Alex R. Teselsky, operate A State of Copper, an energetic family business that produces original copper wall art using heavy-gauge copper, bewitching patinas, and aged barn-wood framing.
Most of their items are Michigan scenes like maps of the Great Lakes, Mackinac Island, Drummond Island, forest scenes, and Detroit skylines. And their line of colorful drink coasters has proven to be one of their best sellers.
But the Teselskys have also done a number of custom pieces for businesses and individuals, including commercial bar tops, restaurant tables, residential tables, serving trays, portraits of the Beatles, corporate buildings, Darth Vader, and sports logos for Michigan sports teams — the Tigers, Spartans, Wolverines, Red Wings, and others.
“We did one for Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, which hangs in Schembechler Hall,” said Teselsky.
Politicians have come calling to have the Teselskys create gifts that they give to associates and honorees. The City of Detroit commissioned pieces to for Mayor Mike Duggan, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and former Gov. Rick Snyder.
Even the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, through the “Pure Michigan” program, sent Teselsky-made pieces to locations around the world in an effort to attract investment to The Mitten State.
The family’s Facebook page for A State of Copper, packed with photos of their creations, has attracted almost 20,000 followers.
“It seems to me that if Teselsky wanted to expand the business “A State of Copper,” he would be an ideal candidate for a show like Shark Tank and would receive multiple bids,” wrote Charles Taylor, who authored an article about the business for Forbes’ online magazine. “Alternatively, I think he would have an easy time gaining venture capital if he could promise expanded production capacity. Clearly, there would be major room for growth in high-end work designed for hotel lobbies, into works on different geographic areas and portraits of famous people along with a variety of other types of Copper Art.”
It all started in 2011 when the Teselskys built a stone and copper bar in a home they had bought. They wanted to put a piece of art — an image of the Great Lakes — made with leftover copper over the bar. But after looking online, they weren't able to get any guidance on how to make such a piece out of copper.
So they invented their own process that they now use for making all of their artwork. The business began slowly in 2016.
“The first 30 or 40 pieces I made were all junk,” joked Teselsky.
Along the way, they began posting reports on the project on Facebook and getting a few orders from friends, then eventually even strangers began making requests. Within six months, orders had grown to the point that Teselsky gave up a 30-year financial career and Becky walked away from her position as an event planner in order to keep up with the demand.
“We were starving artists, but the happiest we had ever been,” he recalled. “Working 18 hours a day, seven days a week making art.”
But that bliss came with a cost.
“I became allergic to the chemicals we were using to do this and lost the skin on my arms and face twice and visited the emergency room five times,” said Teselsky.
“The doctors told me that we should move out of the house because of my condition. The doctors hypothesized that the chemicals had infiltrated my blood stream from the many cuts I got from working with the copper and my body developed acute allergies to them. I am pretty stubborn and not very smart. That, with 50 orders for my art, kept me going and I finally figured out what chemicals that I was allergic to.”
Each creation begins with a 3-foot-by-10-foot sheet of heavy gauge copper. They use only Michigan copper which they manually pick up from a distributor. Then using a variety of acids, the Teselskys get the look they desire.
A marine-grade resin is applied, leaving a protective coating that's the equivalent of more than 200 coats of polyurethane. That protects the piece for generations. It's a process that involves 42 steps and each piece is signed by the artist.
Their creations can be found in 70 different gift shops and locations, including more than a dozen the northwestern lower peninsula.
“Alex has been with us for years,” said Karen Hilt, owner of My Secret Stash, a boutique in Traverse City that carries a variety of Teselsky's works. “He makes such beautiful custom copper pieces that are quite unique. They are really an heirloom gift, something you want to pass on to generations of your family. The kind of thing you have an emotional connection with. They're so wonderful, they're bedazzling.”
The family's love for Michigan and its copper legacy stretches back for generations.
“When my father returned home to Michigan from operating tanks in Europe in World War II, he got work helping to build highways in the Upper Peninsula,” said Teselsky.
“He fell in love with Copper Harbor, so that's where we vacationed as a family when we were growing up. All six kids, Mom and Dad packed into the 1964 Impala station wagon going to the Copper Harbor dump at sunset to watch the bears was one of our most memorable family activities. There is so much to love about Michigan and it's copper heritage, it just seems that if you lived in Michigan, you loved them both.”