I grew up in a small town in Arizona, right next to the Mexican border. A copper refinery was the main industry there.
Although my dad worked for the company, the operation seemed mysterious and a bit threatening. Copper smelting is hot, dangerous work, involving molten rock. The waste product is called slag, and on summer nights we watched as it was poured out onto a storage pile in the distance. The slag steamed like lava, cooling from white to yellow, then red, and finally black.
Despite the serious nature of the work, there was still some room for personal expression. At the end of the day, workers would occasionally fashion small amounts of copper into keepsakes. I have a few of these on my desk, including the small tray shown above. (The letters stand for Douglas Reduction Works.) Especially on the underside (right), the finish is unlike what we’re used to seeing on something like a cooking pan. Its blasted surface is dark and mottled, and rough to the touch. I run my fingers across it sometimes, just to remind myself where I came from.