After retiring from a career with the U.S. Postal Service, Carl Pendergrass found his way to metal arts when a friend helped him replumb his house.
When the job was finished, he found himself with leftover scraps and started experimenting with creating sculptures for his wife's garden.
Pendergrass began giving the copper sculptures and water fountains he created to friends until they encouraged him to turn his craft into a business.
Now, his work appears in homes and businesses around the Chattanooga area, including Erlanger Health Care System and the Ronald McDonald House, as well as in private residences in Long Island, N.Y.; Martha's Vineyard, Mass.; and Washington, D.C. He has created so many pieces, he confesses he can't always recall his clients.
"To be very honest," he said in a phone interview last week, "a [local] woman called me this morning to tell me how much they enjoy their water fountains, and I have no idea who they are. ... Needless to say, my business is as large as it can possibly be. I sell everything I make."
Pendergrass said he is inspired by the people who "support my art and enable me to further my talents as an artist."
He uses both recycled and new copper and creates original and commissioned work.
"Copper is a metal that's very forgiving," he said. "You can do a lot of things with copper. The best thing about copper is that it will never rust. A lot of people buy garden art that's made out of steel, and it may look pretty this year, but as time goes on, it's going to rust. If you buy a piece of copper, it's like watching a child grow up. You can see that copper get its patina, and it actually gets more beautiful with time."
Pendergrass does all the plumbing for his water sculptures and guarantees repairs on any that might malfunction. He also repairs copper works that he did not create, emphasizing the importance of knowing how to work with the soft metal.
Pendergrass is a mainstay at the Chattanooga Market, which opens for the 2012 season today. Among the farmers, bakers, crafters and apothecaries, His copper sculptures and fountains stand out.
"There's really no other copper sculptor [at the market]," said Chattanooga Market director Paul Smith. "It's just such a unique product to fit in a house or in a garden or in a commercial type of environment. Carl takes not only pride in his craftsmanship, but he also tries to fit the piece of art to the customer."