Assemblages by
Dale Copeland

13 August – 10 October

‘The objects I collect, the treasures I keep for years until they find their place, they may indeed be images of death, but for me their beauty is one of the joys which make life into a glowing jewel in the dust.’

Dale Copeland, of Puniho, Taranaki, forms society’s detritus and reworks discarded items into artworks that provide personal, social and global commentary. 

A selection of the Dale’s recent assemblage creations are in her exhibition titled Think which was due to run at Percy Thomson until September 5 (pre-Lockdown).

Dale calls her recent assemblages ‘philosophical ramblings in solid form’.

"I love the things I make.

Junk is collected and donated, sits around for about 20 years, and finally finds its place; from collage postcards to a large motorised Not-Very-Merry-Go-Round of gargoyles; my mother's false teeth in a fish head... life is full of possibilities.

People have been puzzled by the contrast: my optimism and enthusiasm for living seen against my work, which finds its beauty in images of fear, death, and the follies of the living. To me there is no contradiction: given the horrors, the brevity and the pain, an intense joy is the only rational response; dance till they drop you, exult while you can; over all the joys of life, the fierce and inevitable decay.

The objects I collect, the treasures I keep for years until they find their place, they may indeed be images of death, but for me their beauty is one of the joys which make life into a glowing jewel in the dust."

Dale lives in Puniho with her partner, well-known painter Paul Hutchinson. In another life Dale was a teacher of physics and mathematics graduating with first class honours in Mathematics (MA). Dale was honoured with a MNZM (2012) for her services to art.

No Planet B


Assemblage on turntable
Burned-out candle of an old philosopher...
the sages who spoke the truth, but nobody listened.
Our earth, melting on a candlestick.
An hourglass on a clock face.
A souvenir bottle of maui crude oil, made important by the ornate Chinese frame.
And underneath, the students whose future we've compromised.
There's no Plan B, because there's no Planet B.

Dale Copeland, 2021

Counting Down


Barometer, brass abacus, ivory calculating measure, brass binoculars, glass spheres, bone set in silver with with cabochon gemstone. 

So many ways of measuring out, counting down, looking to an end.

Dale Copeland, 2018
$1370 SOLD

Dead Man Dreaming


Cast figure.

Kewpie doll with wings I made from fish jaws, fabric with reflecting squares, all in a mirrored corner shelf.

Dale Copeland, 2021


The Orphan


A doll's head in copper and brass nautical casing.

On a revolving wooden stand.

Protected but isolated. Looking out but not belonging

Dale Copeland, 2018

Gift from the Sea


A dried puffer fish is such a delight to find.

And those things hanging at the bottom?

I was astonished to find that they're sea urchin spikes!

Our kina (sea urchins) are much smaller, with thin spikes only about an inch long.

These ones make a lovely noise when they hit together in the wind.

Dale Copeland, 2020



Mindfulness and Self.

Mindfulness has become something of a 21st century fad, arising from the practices of yoga and meditation.

Being fully and knowingly aware of your body, your breathing, and the details of your surroundings.

Here the bronze figure steps out of his workday background into a clear white enclosure and onto a golden sphere, holding up what looks like a flame or an exotic flower.

The 'flame' is a broken seashell held in a brass bullet case. The piano keys under his feet are for the subdued music of his mind, and the patterns of his world are the strips of nails that feed the repetitive hammering of a nail gun.

Dale Copeland, 2020

Kardashians’ Anatomy Lesson for Little Girls


Assemblage of found objects

Plastic skeleton—totally false in its depiction of the ideal woman. And two more realistic little girls.

The gifted plastic skeleton pleased but horrified me.

For the totally false concept of what a woman looks like on the inside.  The essence of a woman, not.

The ribs are shaped like breasts, the pelvic girdle has got a smooth protruding bum, the legs are impossibly long, and the feet are permanently shaped for high heel shoes.

Head? Hands? No need, not important.

This ideal woman doesn't think, make, or do.

What does this say to the nice normal girl children?

I don't have enough words for this anger. I hope making an assemblage can say it better.

I'm pleased with the final visual statement, and made it so you can rotate the skeleton to see the full horror.

Dale Copeland, 2021

War Maker


Thin-skinned ceramic head on swordfish 'sword' way above a scatter of blackening soldiers.

Those who start wars can ignore the tiny soldiers dying beneath them.

There's a little wheel front and back.

The front one is easy to turn... starting the war is easy.  The one at the back, you guessed, is hard to turn.

Dale Copeland, 2020
$1230 SOLD

The Hardest Lesson


The Hardest Lesson?

I was sent the dead bird by post, in a Tupperware box. I was so excited... it's a beautiful thing. A dry fossil, paper-thin skin stretched over its ribs.

Some sort of owl, my bird-knowing friends said. Probably a morepork.

How to use such a lovely thing?

With respect, with coherent thought?

Finally, it made itself, found its own meaning.

At the bottom, the puzzled-looking doll, finger in mouth, stands by the little cage, wondering.

If the child is fortunate and lives in a society where death is seen as an inevitable part of life, it is straightforward. Birdy has died, like all of us. 

The less fortunate child is told some story; there’s a mysterious place called Heaven, perhaps incorporating angels and harps. Up in the sky? Past the moon even?

The child is left to make sense of all the contradictions, and never told about their own personal cage which will also open one day.

It’s a lesson best learned early.

Anyway, must tell you...  the bird was/is so beautiful.

I wanted to preserve the skin shape, especially over the ribs. So, no paint or varnish. Finally I gently rubbed Dubbin, a leather preservative, into the skin, using a soft toothbrush. Perfect.

The bird is the most beautiful thing, with ribs clearly showing under the stretched dry skin.

Dale Copeland, 2019

Relic from Blenheim


Carved coral figure, large quartz crystal, toenail pressed shell circle on clockface.

I’m happy to tell anyone the story of the toenail—and no, it’s not mine.
People are kind.

Dale Copeland, 2021
$680 SOLD

A gift from the Truth Sayer


Small painting on canvas, mounted on wood with found 'frame' and bullets.

REMO gave me the small painting, in his inimitable style, and I liked what he wrote on the back.

So I mounted it so the back can still be seen.

The wood which once held a battery-powered clock was the right size, and a battered red circle of wood from the beach, was good as a surround.

Stainless steel wire guard as a support, and 20 brass bullet cases a perfect edge.

My friends are kind.

Dale Copeland, 2021
$820 SOLD

Ambition, Hopes & Dreams


Assemblage with a wool-winder, 3 music boxes, and the reel from a fishing rod. 

On the wool-winder there's a doll's head under a cow's horn, with a glass eye at the top.

We're told to aim high, head for the stars, all that.

But life goes on, the tunes play, and the money tree goes around and up and down.

And your life... watch the eye... it heads upwards, then down.  Life with all the distractions... sounds and spinners, round and round.

Gently turn the handles (there are five), see and hear the chaos.

Dale Copeland, 2021

Burial Dolls


Fabric dolls, labelled burial dolls purpose unknown.

A gift from an American friend... no indication how they are, or were, used.

They seem to have spent some time partially buried.

Lovely things, part of their own forgotten ritual.

Dale Copeland, 2019

A Parting Gift for the Bullock


Made from a gift of a very old presentation suitcase. Thick and strong, heavy, beautifully made of leather. Inscribed (on an engraved sterling silver plaque).

to Mr John Scott
from the
Executive Dunedin Centre
20 . 5 . 14

So many questions:
1914? 1814? Definitely not 2014, with such thick heavy leather, and no wheels.
NZBA... Bankers' Association? Bar Association?

And it has Bullock Hide impressed at the top.
So I've block printed across the bottom, using old lead leaders,


Barely discernible. A faint recognition of sacrifice.

Dale Copeland, 2021
$720 SOLD

Guns or Roses


I can call it the young man’s choice.

But it’s easy for us to say, to pronounce from a safe distance.  

The attractions are strong for a young person.    

Via friendship, self-image, the macho appeal.

Dale Copeland, 2019

Past Time Pastimes


Pipe and pipe box, wooden puzzle, chess pieces, ivory cufflink, hanging brass weight.

Was life simpler when it was slower? I wonder if slow and simple will ever be enough again.

Dale Copeland, 2019

The future will engulf


iPad keyboard, old clock surround, carved wooden figure from antique stall in Seoul, Korea.

The future will engulf? Who or what?

Well, me. All of us, in one way or another.

Some will welcome every novelty, swim happily in the waves before going down.

I'm old enough to be muttering 'not all change is progress', and to fear the coming flood.

Dale Copeland, 2021

Wherever you go, there you are


African carved figures with nautical compass on turntable.  When you gently spin the turntable, the figures travel. Looking forwards, looking outwards, but the magnetic needle returns to its starting position, always pointing north.

No amount of travel will take you away from your own reality.

From Granny Devereux


Carved wooden Buddha, over 100 brass bullet casings, in a frame made from Granny’s old piano lid.

Alice Devereux, my granny, lived through two world wars, and the bits of peace between.

The frame is made from the lid of her piano.

She played the piano to accompany silent movies in the Inglewood Town Hall. She did a great job of improvising—I loved her galloping cowboys.

Dale Copeland, 2021

Out of Africa


I found this hand-made wooden object in the local Hospice shop. An African figure holding a crudely cut rack for CDs. I was going to use it to hold CDs in my studio, but some slots weren't wide enough, and it seemed too good to be no more than half useful.

The ancient and distraught face deserved more.

So, what to put in the two vertical spaces? The next day, a friend brought a box holding about a hundred of those tiny pink dolls: the question was answered. 

I wanted to show two columns of babies, for the billions of the world's population.

How to support them, hold them, show them?

I wanted a contrast to the close-to-the-earth ancestor of us all, so it needed shiny glass, gold foil, all the superficial wealth.

Glass cylinders? I looked in my collection—if you've got enough stuff then you'll usually have the right stuff. I'd had these tubes for years, not knowing what they were for - now I know they were made as rolling pins that you fill with iced water for rolling out scone dough or pastry.

That's another nice touch to the meaning—we've come a long way from scratching a living from the soil when we can ice our rolling pins.

The wooden holders with steel bars at the bottom? I haven't a clue what they were for, but they've been lurking in my studio for years. It took some careful and thorough woodwork to fix it all safely in place.

The ancestor of all of us.  We are those pink little plastic baby dolls.  Is this typical of our lives now, owning so many things and being so far removed from the basic problem of survival?

Dale Copeland, 2019

Amongst all your treasures, the most precious is time


Small treasures on wooden towers.

Objects I've had for years... a 'witchy' bead of amber, a carved bone sheep,a  bone and ivory parrot on a stone jar... it used to hold a delicate sponge for cleaning gramophone records.

And under the cut-glass cone is the most precious... 

Af multi-facetted glimpse of a watch face.

Dale Copeland, 2021

So little time to fly


Assemblage in an old metal birdcage.
Old lava lamp, feathers, silver thread,
and a couple of dozen bird skeletons.

The joy of being alive—it feels as though
it will last forever.

Dale Copeland, 2021

After the Show is Over


Assemblage of found objects, clowns in old Singer sewing machine carrying case.

When the circus closes the clowns sit in the dark and make sweet solemn music.

Is it like that for all of us, when our public life is over for the day? We may keep the facepaint on, but we don't have to pretend to be jolly any more.

Dale Copeland, 2019

Be as good you can, at what you can, while you can


Bronze figure of billiards player, a tin of coloured pencils found after years under the weeds.

Blue marbles, brass fittings, magnifying lenses and glass fragments.

It’s always my advice to the young.  

Do what you love, life is short.

Dale Copeland, 2021
$950 SOLD


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