Brandon McCranie has a degree in art from Delta State University (DSU) and spent two years studying classical art in Florence, Italy. So what is he doing creating art out of bottle caps? Making a good living while making people happy to own an original, three-dimensional (3D) piece of art that is affordable and a conversation piece.
“I’ve never met someone who didn’t look at my bottle cap art and say, ‘That is really neat’,” McCranie said. “It seems to be universally accepted. I started out making fish because the bottle caps resemble scales. I do a lot of swordfish and redfish. Later on I started doing a lot of Mississippi wildlife like turkeys and deer. I also take special orders and have even done an oil derrick. But I try to keep my art focused around Mississippi and the Southern culture.”
The business started when McCranie was in college at DSU, and was taking a class in 3 D artwork. His art instructor, Ron Koehler, who now heads the art department at DSU, assigned students to make a sculpture out of found objects. McCranie decided to make a gar with bottle caps for the scales and a saw blade for teeth. Wheels of a desk were used for the eyeballs.
Koehler liked the bottle cap gar so much, he asked if he could buy it. Then another art instructor made the same offer.
“That was better than getting a good grade,” McCranie said. “It wasn’t just one instructor who wanted to buy it, but two. They were artists, too, so I thought I might be on to something. So I started making fish. The first year in college I was selling art pretty regularly around the Delta.”
McCranie taught high school in Cleveland in 2002-2003, but since then the bottle cap art turned into a full-time job. As the years have gone by, the types of bottle caps available became more colorful. That has made it easier to have a colorful palette in the art pieces.
Where does he get all those bottle caps? He is a musician, so he knows local bar owners and bartenders. They save the caps for McCranie, who then will often repay that with a piece of bottle cap art. Also, now that people see what great things he does recycling a simple piece of metal, they save bottle caps for him. Sometimes when he is in town, he will come back to his truck to find someone has tossed a bag of bottle caps in the back.
Sometimes he will buy soda caps or specialty caps online, but mostly his caps are free. After 15 years in the business, he estimates that he has gotten 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of bottle caps free. Some beer companies contact him to make items for their gift shop that include the beer company’s bottle caps. Those include Odell Brewing Company out of Colorado, Flying Dog Beer in Maryland, and New Yazoo Beer, Baton Rouge, La.
McCranie encourages people to try their own hand at bottle cap art. But there is a lot more work that goes into it than most people realize.
“I flatten those caps one at a time,” he said. “It takes a lot of work, but I enjoy doing it. I get a lot of satisfaction from the whole process. It is very accessible art. It is very textural and touchable. I like to touch art. I’m a very tactile person. There is something nice about rubbing your hand over bottle caps that are lined up and flattened. When I go to festivals, kids love to touch my art. I tell their parents it is okay. They aren’t going to hurt it.”
In addition to selling at four or five festivals a year, he also sells a lot wholesale to companies like the Mississippi Gift Company, Mississippi Madness in Oxford and Fat Mama’s Hot Tamales in Natchez.
Men, in particular, love his art.
“That has been really helpful,” McCranie said. “Everyone wants one for their hunting camp or porch. I can’t think of anything better to give for father’s day or a man’s birthday. It is an easy gift.”