David Wilder spent a distinguished career at Iowa State University as a professor and chair in the Materials Science and Engineering department so it’s no wonder among the various collections he and his wife, Donna, have in their garage and home are numerous pieces of copper.
But the copper tells a story more about Wilder’s family history than it does his career.
Sometime in the 1960s, a friend of David’s in Toronto suggested the two young families meet for vacation in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. They did and had a memorable time. The following year, the Wilders returned to Michigan but “someone said you should go up and see the copper country at St. Ignace,” Wilder said.
So the next summer the Wilders traveled to Calumet and Copper Harbor.
“It was beautiful June weather,” Wilder said. “Every day was bright and clear, and it rained every night. We came away thinking we had struck upon some sort of Camelot.”
The Wilders and their four children had found a summer getaway they’d continue returning to for the next four decades, even buying a home in Calumet, once the center of the mining industry of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
“Between the 1860s and 1960s it’s been said that more copper was taken out of the earth there than all the gold that came out of California during the Gold Rush,” Wilder said. “Anyway, it’s a community with a colorful mining history, and it’s an area that dominated the world market for some 50 years.”
As a collector, it didn’t take Wilder long to strike on his next collection.
“You can’t be up there long and not think that you should probably have a little copper,” he said.
The copper comes in either the form of cavity fillings on lava flow surfaces or as drift or float copper, which is copper that was deposited as a result of glaciation or erosion. One of Wilder’s favorite pieces is a smooth, heavy mass that’s both copper and mint-green color.
“It got to the surface and then it got folded over and flattened by the glacier,” Wilder said. “I’m sure it would have a rich and interesting story to tell.”