February 1, 2012
A community college motorsports fabrication instructor finds common ground in race car fabrication, metal art.
Randy Cox has spent a good portion of his life welding, building race cars, and teaching students the trade. In North Carolina, home to some of the most well-known race teams in the business, Cox has spent the last 14 years as a technical instructor in the motorsports department at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in Salisbury, a small town just outside of Charlotte.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t his desire to put his fabrication skills to use more creatively that got him started in metal art. It all began with a practical joke.With the help of his brother, Cox constructed a 10-ft.-tall daffodil and erected it in the middle of a sprawling 20-acre field that ran alongside a well-traveled highway.
“We just thought it would be funny,” Cox explained in a thick Southern drawl.
But ultimately the joke was on Cox. Since turning his welding and fabrication skills toward a different medium, he’s been hooked.
Fabricating the daffodil made Cox realize that the world of welding and fabricating extended beyond motorsports. He found that there was a demand for the softer side of metal fabrication and that he was good at making things people liked. Even better, he found solace in this new change of pace.
“It’s just nice to do things that are creative and different.”
Cox’s specialty is flowers, but he does lamps, table stands, flower pots, decorative pieces, and even jewelry. Every groove in the petals or every twist and angle in each flower stem is formed by hand with a hammer and an anvil. If he is forming copper, he’ll use a sandbag and metal dollies. Every component is crafted carefully and deliberately.
He credits his experience with fabricating custom panel shapes for race cars, hot rods, and custom cars with the ability to hand-form these intricate shapes.
Many of Cox’s sculptures feature a combination of materials, like steel, copper, and silver. The only way to join them together is with either soldering or oxyacetylene welding.
“Even though it’s an old process, it’s still very usable because it allows me to weld just about anything. It’s something that I learned many years ago, and it’s seemed to work very well for me throughout the years.”
Soldering and oxyacetylene welding might be considered a little old-fashioned and more labor-intensive, but Cox finds joy in the creative process and not necessarily the end product.
Committed to learning more about art, Cox enrolled in a general art class at RCCC and, in turn, has seen an increase in the number of art students who take the elective welding class that he teaches. This collision of worlds, so to speak, has opened his eyes to the similarities between his life’s work in motorsports fabrication and his hobbyist metal art endeavors. Both require a creative mind, an eye for detail, metalworking experience, and the ability to take dissimilar components and transform them into aesthetically pleasing objects.
“If you can take a pile of sheet metal and steel tubing and six months later it’s a functioning automobile that you can drive down the road, then you’re an artist. It’s not art in terms of what they might imagine, but it’s still very much artwork.”
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