Guest Blog: Hammering Home The Possibilities of Metal

This week’s guest blog comes from Melissa Cole, 45, Wiltshire, UK.

melissa 1

Melissa in her forge. Photograph by Mark Somerville.

I started ‘tinkering’ in my Dad – Hector Cole MBE’s – forge and didn’t think there was anything unusual about him having a forge in the back of the garage at home.

I helped out drilling holes for a big pair of gates he was making and ‘played’ in the forge as a teenager, but didn’t really appreciate the whole thing until I went to study for my art degree.  I then realised metal art was what I wanted to do.

During my art degree I used the forge, anvil and hammer to create linear sculptures and I’m still drawn to that simple way of working now, but with a more refined approach focusing on individual hammer marks.

My dad trained me in traditional blacksmithing skills, I learnt to weld from a pro welder and I never thought about what to make when I was designing as I didn’t want to limit myself!

I didn’t want to be a purist blacksmith, nor make knives or weapons; that’s my Dad’s speciality. I always wanted to work with people, so wrote and fundraised for a community art project.

The Arts Council offered to fund my project if I would take my forge into the community and work with young people, encouraging them to take a risk and be creative at the same time.  I wasn’t sure if this would work but it did and I never looked back.

In 2007 I was awarded the Bronze Medal from The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths for my forge work.

As the secondary schools were throwing out and closing down the metal workshops, I was going in to primary and secondary schools as a specialist with my own forge and equipment to teach metal skills and create site specific sculptures.  This was brilliant fun, rewarding and challenging and I did it for 15 years, culminating in my forge and equipment going to Joint HQ military base in Monchengladbach in Germany for me to work with the base and school on a commemorative sculpture project in 2013.

I started to work on larger public art commissions, sometimes working alongside engineering companies. I learnt lots of skills and enjoy that still. Recently I have started to cast in bronze with a friend that has a foundry but I prefer hammering hot metal really!

I stopped taking my forge and equipment to schools and now teach from home – short courses and introductory days for people wanting to try blacksmithing. I really enjoy this and try to balance it alongside my commissioned work.

My work is all designed by me, I work for private clients and public projects and my style of work is what draws people to me.

I try to design light and fluid pieces that aren’t barriers but encourage you to look at a space and the shapes between the lines I make.

'Momentum' by Melissa Cole

‘Momentum’ by Melissa Cole

If I can, I make my own sculptural pieces through the year and have small exhibitions at my forge.

I work on my own unless it is a huge project where I can call in some help and I always use engineers to install my large works.

Last year I made two very different style garden gates for private clients and two large screening panels for a public space in Oxford, an Altar cross and candlesticks for a hospice as well as 40 days teaching!

Gates by Melissa Cole

White Gates by Melissa Cole. Photograph by Mark Somerville.

One of my favourite pieces is the River Route wall mounted installation on Chapel Street in Oxford. It is a depiction of the River Isis that wraps around the building and is all hand forged.

'River Route' by Melissa Cole. Photograph by Mark Somerville

‘River Route’ by Melissa Cole. Photograph by Mark Somerville

The piece was really challenging due to the nature of the wall construction which meant I could only fix to battens behind specific mortar joints while getting flowing piece of 3D metalwork.  I only missed 1 out of 84 fixing holes so was really pleased! I think it looks great up there!

To me, the best thing about working in metal is that anything is possible! You can work out how to make it work with time and a bit of engineering!

To see more of Melissa’s amazing work, please visit www.melissacole.co.uk or find her on Twitter at @melissacole01.

You can also find our previous guest blogs at, Horsing Around with MetalOn the Ball with Metal and Going Ape with Scrap Metal and Bridging the Gap Between Metal and Art.

If you’re interested in being a Guest Blogger for The Metal Store feel free to get in touch with us, we’d love to showcase your work!

Facebook: The Metal Store UK
Twitter: @TheMetalStoreUK
Website: www.themetalstore.co.uk

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