Forge and farm get global attention

Published 5:11 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2017

By Anna Bultrowicz

A toothy, handcrafted human skull on a pike greets you up the dirt road to Crickets Cove in Victoria — but visitors are assured by the artist it’s not real.

The farm is where metal artist and blacksmith Jim Cooper runs a forge and an organic permaculture operation with his wife, Marianne Cicala. While Cooper mostly credits his wife with the design and care of the farm, he spends his time at the anvil as often as possible.

“My father felt that everyone should have something they can do with their hands,” said Cooper. “He also didn’t want me to spend time at loose ends after school, so he set me up with a German goldsmith.”

For four years growing up in Birmingham, Ala., Cooper spent afternoons, weekends and summers beneath the goldsmith. He was initially trained as a jeweler and ended up apprenticed to a blacksmith — a trade which he’s been in engaged in for about 40 years now.

Previously employed as the chief conservator at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, Tenn., Cooper has been exhibited internationally, although he’s

reluctant to think of himself as a global artist.

“He’s incredibly modest,” laughed Cicala. Cooper, who is commissioned for both public and private works, has had his art exhibited in Great Britain and is collected privately all over the world. One of his best-known pieces, however, can be found in Center City Park in Greensboro, N.C.

Libation, the centerpiece of the park, is an 8-foot-6-inch bronze fountain comprised of two containers continuously brimming over. While his larger works are primarily iron, Cooper works in several different type of metals.

One of his latest projects is a mixed media bench inspired by gingko leaves.

“Living in Lunenburg County is somewhat removed from large urban area, so, as an artist, it’s not the best place in the world for me to be in that sense, in a commercial sense. That being said, I do manage to sell a fair amount of work. I would rather live here than in the city … I’ve lived in cities, and they can keep ‘em. (Lunenburg County) is not the best place in the world to sell art, but as far as making art it’s an ideal place. I really treasure our life here,” said Cooper.

Cooper and Cicala had always wanted a piece of property in the country.

“It’s the only place we’ve ever really felt like was home,” said Cooper. The husband and wife lived in several cities before they put down permanent roots in Lunenburg.

According to Cooper, when he and his wife first arrived at the site of their would-be log cabin, the land had been nothing but woods. It had been the site of an old farm, but it had not been touched for 50 to 60 years. With the help of their children and retired stone mason Roy Baker, Cooper and Cicala designed and built their cabin, which they’ve called home since 2008.

“It was before it was all hip and trendy to buy an old log home,” said Cicala, who earned her Permaculture Design Certification and Advanced Permaculture Practicum from Oregon State University.

The entire farm spans 100 acres, but only 35 of those acres are under cultivation.

“We’re leaving the rest of it to the forest. Enough. That’s enough. We can produce a ludicrous amount of food on that acreage,” said Cicala, an avid supporter of permaculture.

“You partner with nature instead of attempting to mastermind it. We make an enormous amount of compost on site, and that’s the only thing that’s added to any of our gardens,” said Cicala. No pesticides are used. No mechanical equipment; everything is done by hand.

Cicala also practices companion planting.

“I’ll give you an easy example,” explained Cicala. “Spinach takes an enormous amount of nitrogen. So, right next to it, we’ll plants beans, because they dump nitrogen into the soil. It’s just that symbiotic balance — nature’s going to take care of it.”

According to Cooper and Cicala, their gardens — which are laid out not in rows, but mounds — are not only more efficient, but also significantly better for the environment.

Cicala has been contacted by world-renowned expert in permaculture Rico Zook, who would like to hold design certification classes at Crickets Cove. Zook works with the governments of countries such as India and the Republic of China to try to convert arid portions of their countries into arable land.

Cooper’s artwork and Cicala’s produce can be found at their shop Twigs & Berries in Kenbridge.

Courtesy of Jim Cooper and Marianne Cicala Jim Cooper’s most recent project is a mixed media bench inspired by the leaves of the gingko tree.

Courtesy of Jim Cooper and Marianne Cicala
Jim Cooper’s most recent project is a mixed media bench inspired by the leaves of the gingko tree.