Dear Jim, thank you for taking the time to connect with HocTok and our audience sharing your passion and craftsmanship as a famed coppersmith. How did it all begin?
My first real encounter with copper cookware was in France, of course. In 2004, poking through an antique shop in Saulieu, a small town in France’s Burgundy region, my wife and I found an inspiringly large copper stock pot from Bernard Loiseau’s legendary La Côte d’Or restaurant, located across the street. I learned much later of his legend and his Michelin stars. However, indirectly, a piece of him inspired me on my path. I had made a deal with my wife that we would purchase the stock pot only if I could make it usable again. The pot was worn out from years of use. It needed “retinning” but this was a word and a concept with which I was unfamiliar. Inspired, back home in Rhode Island, I dove in and tried to learn what the pan needed. In the process, I essentially taught myself the coppersmith’s art of tinning.
It took many attempts, adjustments, and a consistent swallowing of frustration before my lovely Linda would accept the piece to cook. I thought others would appreciate this service and posted a simple ad online. To my surprise people began sending me their pans and I started East Coast Tinning.
Today, over 15 years later, customers from around the world trust me to restore their prized heirlooms.
What about Duparquet Copper Cookware? Can you share with us the story behind it?
After a few years of retinning copper pieces, I realized that merely refurbishing antique pots just wasn’t enough for me. I saw amazing quality in the vintage pieces, but found nothing similar in new copper cookware available in today’s market. It took a few months of research, and more trial and error before I began manufacturing hand-made, artisanal copper cookware. My work was based on the designs of my favorite vintage American pieces, featuring thick copper walls, tin linings, cast-iron handles, and massive rivets. I re-registered the name of a long-defunct American manufacturer, “Duparquet, Huot & Moneuse, Co.” Now I produce some of the finest authentic copper cookware available today. The traditional tin-lined copper pans expanded into higher-end copper pieces lined with silver. Technically, silver has a heat conductivity that even exceeds copper providing a beautiful and technically superior product. Recently, I even started making a few pieces in solid sterling silver. It is truly a remarkable technical and aesthetic product.
How has your day-to-day activity changed due to COVID-19?
In Rhode Island, we are not under a complete lockdown order at this time. In order to continue working, I have set up shifts to keep us all separated. My team of two, who also live together, work regular hours and I come in and work a second shift after disinfecting all the common areas. The UPS and Postman are no longer allowed into our space and they leave packages in the hallway. Our local customers can schedule pickup or drop off in the parking lot considering an appropriately long distance to minimize exposure.
Were you prepared as a business for this type of emergency?
Absolutely not. However, the main benefit of being small is the ability to be nimble, to find excellent solutions that meet a situation, and then to implement them immediately. Fortunately, we are able to continue to meet customers' needs while also paying employees and at the same time meeting the absolute spirit of the quarantine and social distancing requirements.
Do you think that craftsmanship will be valued differently after a pandemic like this?
Of course, I may be wrong!! But to me, this moment will prove to be a HUGE tipping toward the respect of the local, the national, and the craftsman as part of that.
We have seen a clear downside of economically linking our lives to cheap goods from overseas. There will be industrial policy decisions formed in the next few months that will last for decades. Part of this is pharmaceuticals, part of this is technology, and part is culture. Craftspeople are a stake in the ground on heritage and culture.
Yes. Quality will be more expensive than non-quality, but the dollar is not the only yardstick with which to measure progress. Saving culture and heritage is every bit as important than saving a dollar. Heritage can motivate and inspire to the human core whereas the dollar can only motivate us so far.
I have brought back a trade - coppersmithing - that was well beyond the grave in this country. There are many, many people like me, who make the most amazing "everyday" objects. These objects will last longer and their owners will appreciate them more than ANY item EVER bought at a Target or a Home Depot or a Walmart.
This pandemic has focused extra mental attention on our buying decisions. When I need a new chair or desk or lamp or rug or tool, I will ask myself if there is a "guy or gal" that can make it for me?
Where do you turn for a new perspective on what's to come?
What's to come? The entire world has no idea where we will be in a month - much less a year. It is very easy to listen to others for direction into the unknown but none of us have been through anything like this. I think you have to immerse yourself in the data, the news, and the "feeling" of the moment and then listen. "It" will subtly tell you how the future will play out. You need to listen to yourself in this moment and not others for this direction.
I find my mind dwells for a period of time in the chaotic mess of everything and then aligns with a focus on how it COULD BE and WHAT'S TO COME. I scribble notes furiously when this happens and then the pieces literally fall into place. The right calls come in and the right emails get answered as if in response to my new alignment understanding. Equal doses of reality, hope, possibilities, and life experience eventually bring a blurry focus to the chaos.
Are you working on a special project right now?
I have a few special projects going on right now. The price of copper is down and the price of silver is WAY down. High-end customers looking at my premium products can benefit from these potentially brief price dips in the raw materials. On the lower end, I am making some fun pieces for under $100 - copper coasters, copper bottle openers, etc. Things I've been thinking about but never have had the time to complete.
What can you say about our three campaigns:
#HowWeCope Older individuals have been through many of these trying times: the fear of nuclear annihilation, 9/11, the financial collapse, a contentious divorce. We always get through these times "That which does not kill me makes me stronger!" right? It isn't pretty, but we figure it out. When absolute horror breaks out in your mind, that's usually when it begins to turn around. Following that mindset, the short term view is important: keep moving forward.
#BeatTheBlues Use the blues! I find that crisis puts me closer to understanding absolute truths, both positive and negative. What thoughts do I have that are pipe dreams? What thoughts do I have that are universal? Use these glimpses of understandings to inspire your creativity. It is our creativity, perspective, and passion that others will relate to and get inspired themselves.
#WhatMatters To me life is centered around the meal, which is family, friends, and community. Cook, discuss, drink, eat and revel in these moments with those close to you. The feelings you have during those roundtable conversations is what matters.