Doug Cox and his stainless steel creations
Weathered hands pick up the smooth stainless steel as if it were a piece of glass. The craftsman wipes the dust off onto his jeans. His smile indicates Doug Cox has found a diamond in the rough.
“These make great bug bodies,” Doug says, picking up a used stainless steel tank handle.
For the past 25 years, Doug has been a stainless steel finisher at the Paul Mueller Co. in Springfield. The international firm specializes in tanks, vessels and reactors or chemicals, medicine, food, beverages and more. When Doug sees a bin full of stainless steel scrap after a long day at work, his eyes light up in anticipation of what fanciful creations he can form from the metal.
After high school and some college classes, the Republic artist’s career took him into sandblasting and welding, but his love of art was always there in the background.
“I really thought I’d be a graphic artist,” says the 63-year-old metalworker. “But life takes you in lots of directions and that wasn’t my path.”
Through the years Doug picked up tips from old-school welders who’d been working with metal for decades. While he’s a certified welder, Doug’s job requires detailing and polishing stainless steel surfaces until they shine like stars. That attention to detail is part of what makes Doug’s off-hours projects look so good.
“My wife, Tammy, feels like a shop widow sometimes,” Doug says, pointing up toward the house. “That said, I think she understands my drive to create — I hope.”
Some artists want to make pieces for interior decorations. Doug’s work usually takes up some serious space — and usually outdoors. Pieces such as “Abstract Woman with Factory Air,” “Dragonfly Moon” and “The Amazing Blabadors: Maggie and Rufus” range in height from 4 feet up to 15 feet and can weigh in at a hefty 500 pounds.
Doug’s work has been part of art exhibits such as Sculpture Walk Springfield. The free public art installation is sponsored by local businesses to help pay small stipends to the juried artists. If selected, the art is publicly displayed and rotated on a yearly basis for everyone to enjoy. Doug feels blessed that several of his pieces have been part of the art walk the past few years.
“I feel honored just to have been selected to have work on display,” says the artist. “They receive submissions from all around the world.”
There’s a lot of whimsy in Doug’s style.
“Well, my frogs do usually end up with a set of Rolling Stones lips with a tongue hanging out,” Doug says, “and the monkeys do look a bit like they’re up to something. I let my inner child out when I’m creating something.”
The monkeys truly are up to something and they’ve made it all the way to northwest Missouri stopping in St. Joseph.
Currently part of the Allied Arts Council exhibit, they can be found hanging around downtown as part of a public display. His latest sculpture, “Do Something Good With Your Superpowers” is on display at the Tie & Timber Beer Co. in Springfield. “Our pets inspired the sculpture,” Doug says of the nearly 9-foot-tall stainless steel structure displaying a caped canine helping his friends. “It’s just a fun way of saying we are all empowered to do something good in life.”
Since he works full time, Doug usually steals a couple of hours during the evening and a chunk of weekend time when he’s completing a sculpture.
“Some of these have hundreds of hours put into them,” says the metal artist, noting others have taken more than a year to complete.
Doug buys the stainless steel scraps he brings home from work. His finished art commands a good price, starting around $10,000. He figures businesses with big lobbies or outdoor space are the best homes for his works of art.
Currently, the artist is wrapping up an untitled piece with flowers, butterflies and friendly bugs. Doug says he’s got a bigger piece he’d like to begin work on sometime soon.
“It’s going to involve dogs because, well, I just love dogs,” says the artist. “I think they’re going to have a picnic on a blanket and giant ants will be packing off their lunch. Of course, I’ve got to weave a basket out of stainless steel, so that’s going to eat up some time right there.”
Doug’s advice to other metal artists is to pursue shows both in their region and online. “Submit your art to shows for the feedback if nothing else,” he says. “But remember, there will be a lot of varied thoughts about your work. Take away what you need to move forward, and leave the rest behind.”