When Mary "Mo" McCrimmon decided to remodel her kitchen, she didn’t stop at the water’s edge to find inspiration. Mo dove right in and created an underwater haven fit for a mermaid.
While Mo’s husband, Tom, was recovering from an injury, they both thought it would be a great time to replace the outdated cupboards in their Cortland, Ohio, kitchen. “The cupboards were well made, but the doors had a 50s Jetsons look,” she laughs. When they tore out the cupboards, the backsplash was accidentally damaged, so Tom challenged Mo to create an entirely new backsplash out of copper. Tom is a woodsmith and created new cupboard doors with a nautical rope detail, and Mo took on most of the rest. Two years later, they have a completely remodeled galley-style kitchen brought to life by their skills and boundless imagination.
“I don’t play by the rules and I create with glee—no following the pack for me. I strive to be different,” says Mo.
The process of creation was difficult, complex, and highly collaborative. Without going into too much complicated detail, it involved laser printers, cloth irons, hot plates, giant water vats, alcohol inks, a bench anvil, sinking dishes, torches, texture hammers, a Picard raising hammer, a goldsmith hammer, nylon hammers, drill presses, a hole punch, and more. Mo drew on her years of experience as a metalsmith, plus added skills along the way.
Along with her husband, Mo relied on help from friends in online sea glass communities to bring together hundreds of pieces of sea glass used in her final design. “I couldn’t have done my jellyfish sculptures without the help of my lovely ‘seasters’ who answered my call for beach glass to create them.
It took 524+ nuggets for the jellyfish tentacles!” says Mo. Other materials brought the cost of her project to about $3,000.
Mo is inspired by the materials she uses. “I love, love copper!” she exclaims. “Copper is such a wonderful medium. It’s pure, warm, and willing to play in a multitude of techniques that I’m still exploring. It’s the metal of Aphrodite, and when I’m gifted or find a piece of copper on the shore, I feel truly grateful for the gift.”
She’s also inspired by her surroundings, first getting the idea for the jellyfish sculpture during a visit to the Cleveland Aquarium during Tom’s recovery at the hospital. “Did you know that Lake Erie has a jellyfish population?” she marvels. “The idea for my remodel was to make you feel like you’re in the galley of a submarine with this porthole above your head and jellyfish floating by.”
She’s a professional artist today, but Mo has been doing art since high school. Throughout her life, she’s studied packaging, sewing, interior decorating, China painting, watercolor painting, alcohol ink painting, torching glass beads, and fishing lures. She loves learning about new things.
And she had a lot to learn to complete this project. Although she’s an accomplished metalsmith, Mo used materials at a much larger size for the hammered copper backsplash and copper countertop. “Learning to work with huge pieces of copper, going from jewelry scale to mega scale took some adjustment, but it sure was fun to make,” says Mo.
Next up was creating the tiles that form the mermaid over her stove. Mo divided the image into squares then etched the image on each tile, using alcohol inks to add the brilliant colors of her siren. She added beach glass jewels, each carefully selected and bezel set by hand in the background and in the mermaid’s stunning statement “necklace.”
Finally, she created her jellyfish by forging ten copper bowls, raising them by hand by hammering on a sinking dish custom-made by Tom. She then created the braces for the beach glass nuggets trailing behind the jellyfish bells and assembled them for hanging.
The finished project is truly breathtaking, and you might be tempted to hold your breath in this underwater grotto. The jellyfish float above, waves of texture sweep across the copper backsplash, and the gorgeous mermaid keeps watch over it all from her perch above the stove.
So what’s next for Mo? She’s currently working with an online group going through Alan Revere’s Professional Jewelry Making book, project-by-project. “Alan has also given me a personal challenge to take five of my designs and interpret them into silver,” adds Mo. And, now that the kitchen is complete, she’s focusing on another new project. “I’ve become fascinated with foldforming. This technique lends itself to aquatic lifeforms so I’m excited to explore and add it to my new project, which I’m calling Aphrodite’s Crown.”
When she’s not at her bench, Mo is an avid beachcomber and has been collecting beach treasures ever since she moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, in her early 20s. She collects beach glass, pottery, fossils, wishing stones, hag stones, otoliths, wampum, metals, shells, or anything unusual. As she beachcombs, she picks up any plastic or garbage she comes across. Her favorite beaches are Black Glass Beach in Ohio, where she finds massive Vitrite nuggets, and Sanibel Island in Florida, where she finds shells. At the top of her beachcombing bucket list is a Frozen Charlotte doll.
If you’re in the area, Mo recommends seeing the Ashtabula County Covered bridges and the beach glass festival. “Ashtabula Harbor Beach Glass Festival is a must for beach glass aficionados,” she says.
Find Mo on Instagram at @copperhead_queen and see her jewelry at the Flux Metal Arts Studio in Mentor, Ohio.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2019 issue.