The art of working with copper in Santa Clara del Cobre has been passed on from father to son for hundreds of years. Many of the craftsmen are P'urhépecha (Tarascan) Indians who are probably still the majority of the population around
There is a museum that holds some truly marvelous and unique copper works. Each piece is hammered from one piece of copper with no welding involved.
We were able to visit a copper workshop and observe the artisans. First they melt the copper down to a blob (for lack of a better word). Then they beat it into a flat round shape using sledge hammers. One guy turns the hot copper while 3 or 4 others beat a rhythm in perfect time with their large hammers on a solid steel anvil. Note the variety of hammers and tools on the wall and the many copper pieces lying about.
They then begin to work the copper into a more refined shape and the art begins to appear. We are not exactly sure why they sometimes beat the copper when it was still hot from the fire, or sometimes cooled the copper by dipping it in water and then working it. Note the guy working the bellows to create more heat and the piles of wood in back used to continually feed the fire.
There are many sizes and shapes of anvils and hammers. Each piece is worked using any number of these. Even those things that look like bent nails to the left are different anvils for working smaller pieces. The more they beat on the copper the stiffer and harder it becomes – and more of the copper color begins to appear.
Here is one of the master craftsmen hard at work. Hammering for hours and hours each day builds up some serious arm strength – don’t pick a fight with a coppersmith.