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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : people, places & past May 1, 2016

11/26/2013 1:18:00 PM
Family copper collection finds home in Clarkdale (with video)
Shot 2 weeks before the grand opening on December 1, 2013, the nearly completed (just the final details remained) Copper Art Museum is quite a feast for the eyes.
Drake Meinke
Drake Meinke

Yvonne Gonzalez
Staff Reporter

CLARKDALE - It's taken Drake Meinke eight years and almost a year of running practice tours, but the Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale is set to open its doors officially on Dec. 1.

Meinke bought the former Clarkdale High School building to house his family's large collection of copper antiques.

"We refurbished the floors, the walls, the ceiling, the roof, the plumbing, the electricity, the bathrooms, painting. We've done absolutely everything to include 450 panes of glass that were broken or plastic that we replaced in the building," he said. "I still have a lot of stuff in the building to finish up."

The family business

Three generations of Meinkes have dealt in antiques and copper specifically.

"In 1919, my grandmother started an antique shop in Northern Minnesota," Meinke said. "She was in the antique business for a long time, and that business passed to my mother."

In the 1960s, the second generation of antiquers took to road shows, traveling to cities like Chicago, Wyoming, Dallas and Minneapolis.

"When she was selling at the shows, she started to focus more on copper items and getting away from just generalized antiques, like glass and ceramics," Meinke said. "From the 80s and 90s, she was more into just copper artifacts."

When antique road shows starting to become less popular, the Meinkes sought out a new venue for their copper wares.

"In about the year 2000, her collection ... was quite large and I came up with the concept that maybe we can start a small museum," he said.

Copper Mountain Antiques in Jerome is owned by the Meinkes and has supported the efforts of the museum through retail sales. Residents have donated or loaned pieces to the museum as well.

The company-owned town was home to a smelter where workers extracted the copper from ore mined in Jerome. Copper baron William A. Clark started the town in the late 1800s, having run a successful mining operation in Montana and sold land around a railroad that became Las Vegas.

It was built in the spirit of the City Beautiful Movement, incorporating a range of architectural styles, wide streets and affordable housing. Clarkdale has become the state's largest rural historic district with 386 buildings on the historical register.

"So Clarkdale had a lot of attributes for us to move here," Meinke said. "Architecture, the unity of the town, and all sorts of different things."

Making a museum

After two years of part-time work, Meinke settled on Arizona, a state with copper as its fifth economic C.

Meinke, a former Army researcher, said the location needed to have enough traffic to bring visitors, and a less industrialized atmosphere where a copper art museum would fit in, whittling down a list of candidate cities and towns including Bisbee, Ajo, Globe, and Morenci.

"Then I found the town of Jerome, Arizona," Meinke said. "I had been to Jerome before. My grandfather was an editor for a newspaper in the 1920s and '30s when Jerome was in its heyday, and he told me when I was a kid that if I ever got to Arizona, make sure I go to Jerome."

The lack of suitable real estate in the small hilltop town sent Meinke back down the winding road, where, instead of making a right onto the 89A, he went straight and stumbled into Clarkdale.

"I drove down into Clarkdale and I just drove past this building, the former Clarkdale High School building, and it was for sale," he said.

He started researching yearly tourism traffic in the towns and national parks like Tuzigoot National Monument, which is almost visible from the back of the copper museum. As he looked into Clarkdale's history, he found that the former company town fit with his project.

"Jerome is only a mining town," he said. "Clarkdale actually made the metal, and that's what's featured here, is what man made with the metal."

The museum occupies the first floor of the old school, and Meinke lives in one corner of the upstairs with the rest devoted to research and exhibit preparation.

"If something should happen, we're here," Meinke said. "Say a water pipe breaks. Somebody could respond immediately rather than losing 50,000 gallons of water and having an $800 water bill, somebody could be out there to fix that right away."

The Copper Art Museum

Four years of full-time work have yielded glass display cases made from old windowpanes from the smelter, and wood from the Old King Mine in Jerome has been smoothed and shined to form shelves that display anything from copper cooking pots to giant wine jugs.

Carlos Romero worked on carpentry, glasswork, and painting among others, Jonathan Russell worked on the welding, and Meinke's daughter, Monica, worked on the large informational posters and graphics that are part of the tour.

Colors and materials were chosen based on how well they would offset the copper wares. Light-colored stone tiles line the countertops and edges of display cases, and the former linoleum-clad floors are now smooth concrete painted a greenish tint.

The first room of the museum is devoted to information and background on copper. The second is lined with military art, showing what soldiers used copper for and "how they made military trench art and hammered items that they used to make during the world war."

Third is the architecture room, and next is the cooking room.

"It's the first metal discovered, so they've been using copper for at least 10,000 years to cook on," Meinke said.

The next room holds containers for beer, milk or water.

"The final room is the room we added in," he said. "Because we're such a wine-producing region nowadays, we felt it was important to add a room about copper and wine."

Without a board of directors, Meinke decided he'd direct people in his museum using thin sheets of copper cut to resemble footprints and placed beneath a clear coating on the ground.

"If you don't get the beginning of the tour, you don't get the complete idea about copper or where it comes from and how it came about and all the affinities that are associated with copper," Meinke said.

Meinke is using the one original display case left to house memorabilia from the school, including a notebook and stack of report cards he recently found in a heating duct.

Rates vary for schoolchildren, seniors, veterans and Clarkdale residents, but a ticket to the museum will cost about $10. People will be able to choose between taking an organized tour or exploring on their own.

"Copper is an amazing metal," he said. "It's truly amazing how copper came about in this world, how man discovered it, how he made it into artwork, and all the affinities that are associated with the metal are almost mind boggling."

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