By: Jim Hannaford

Many people along the Eastern Shore know him as a top-notch drummer, but there’s a lot more to Craig Riches than meets the ear. For almost a quarter-century, his love of making music has usually taken a back seat to his main gig, creating eye-catching art that is recognized around the country.

From the first of each year until the onset of summer, Craig hits the road with a truck full of what he calls “kinetic copper sculptures.” Most of them are based on a fairly simple spiral design which he says came to him in a moment of inspiration back when he was still working as a building contractor in Nashville. That’s where the Jacksonville, Fla. native was playing with a variety of rock and country acts, including The Leavin Brothers, which is what brought him to our area almost 20 years ago.

For the last six years, he and his wife, Cheryl, have resided in the Fish River community just east of Fairhope. He makes his art inside a thousand-square-foot workshop that he built himself on their four acres of land. It’s just a few miles from the former Woodhaven Dairy property where he had lived and set up shop many years before.

“I do like the pastoral setting we have out here, and I love being close to the water,” he says. “Most of the time I have the peace and quiet I need to do my work, but sometimes it can get pretty noisy out here, with all the children and dogs and motorcycles and guns.”

He’s often out on the road at weekend events far from home.

“From January to Memorial Day, I stay real busy going to these events,” Craig says. “I try to slow down in the summer because it gets so hot. There’s a lot of hard work involved, including lifting these heavy objects and moving them from place to place. The bases for some of them weigh nearly a hundred pounds.”

The events he’s talking about are generally very similar to the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival. Maybe you’ve seen him there, and if there was a nice breeze blowing, there’s a good chance that his sculptures caught your attention. In his line of work, wind is very important, so he tends to narrow his travels basically to the Midwestern region of the United States.

“I stay in that corridor,” says Craig. “I was in Dallas recently and it was very still and they weren’t moving and I could hardly give them away. But on a pretty day when it’s breezy and there’s a crowd, I do very well.” 

You or one of your neighbors may already have a Craig Riches metal sculpture, or perhaps you’ve enjoyed seeing the one near the bay’s edge at the Jubilee Suites bed-and-breakfast in Fairhope. Soon, you’ll be able to experience a new piece of hisone of his largestoutside the Orange Beach Arts Center. Once city workers finish constructing its pedestal, his stately sculpture, entitled “Dance of the Elements,” will stand permanently and prominently—at a height of nearly 10 feet—at the site of the annual Orange Beach Arts Festival.

He discovered the appeal of the swirling spirals by chance years ago while building exhibits for a children’s museum in Nashville. He had drawn out a spiral on construction paper to make a stencil so he could paint whimsical designs on a wooden structure.

“And as I cut it out and lifted it, it elongated itself,” he recalls. That gave him an idea, so he decided to use the same pattern and a pair of tin snips to trim a sheet of copper he had left over from another project. “When I lifted it up, I immediately saw that it caught the wind.”

More than two decades later, Craig has about 150 designs that he can replicate into different sizes based on the diameter of the spiral. To make sure his sculptures rotate gracefully, he tests them using an anemometer, a device that measures wind speed.

Even after producing and selling countless thousands of pieces, large and small, he continues to see the magic in them. In his own words, here’s what makes them so alluring:

“Many of the pieces form a mirror image,” he explains, “and that mirror image, when it’s spinning, creates an optical illusion that draws your eye from the outside of the piece to the inside of the piece over and over again, from the small part to the big part, and it makes the left side of your brain and the right side of your brain do some sort of dance that it’s not accustomed to, and it forces you to relax.”

He continues: “The motion draws you in and it captivates you immediately, like looking into a bonfire.”

That’s why he calls his company Fire Dance Designs. He also likes to point out that his works combine all of the earth’s primary elements of nature. “When they’re moving, they look like a waterfall, and they’re made from copper, which comes from the earth. I have to have fire to put them together and the only way they operate is with the wind. It’s an interplay of all these four elements.”

Craig finds it ironic that he’s made a career out of something he really had never even considered. He was more focused on being a successful musician. He says that the simple spiral shape, which his entire business is built around, is something he’d never given a single thought to until that fortuitous day when he was suddenly inspired to make art.

“I have a handful of things that people gravitate to, and it’s a total blessing,” Craig says. “If you had told me back then that I’d become an artist when I was in my 40s, I would have looked at you in disbelief. I truly feel like God threw me a bone.”

To see Craig Riches’ art for yourself, check out the images and videos on his website,

May 29, 2024
Events That Inspire

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