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Inside the Collection: Robert Coogan

“I get fueled by making things. It still amazes me that I can take an old steel pipe and reshape it and add copper to it and it becomes something else.” – Bob Coogan

Bob Coogan was born in California in 1952. He received a BA in Art from Humboldt University in 1977 and went on to earn an MFA in Metalsmithing at Cranbrook School of Art in 1979. After a series of short teaching positions, Coogan helped found the metals program at Tennessee Tech University’s Appalachian Center for Craft, and in 1981, he became the head of the program. He taught classes in all areas of metalsmithing, from jewelry and hollowware to blacksmithing and blade-smithing. He retired from the ACC in 2015 after teaching about 700 students over the course of 35 years. Coogan describes his students as his “favorite art piece” and even after teaching for nearly four decades, he said, “[My students] still surprise me. Sometimes it’s the questions they ask that I’ve never thought of or the approaches that they take.”

Robert Coogan demonstrates hammer planishing techniques for two students during 1999 Repair Days. Photograph by F. Jack Hurley.

In addition to his teaching, Coogan has been heavily involved with the Metal Museum since it opened in 1979. He curated the exhibition Metals Expressions II, which traveled from the ACC to the Metal Museum in 1980, and was also a guest curator for the Museum’s 1986 exhibition Japanese Metalsmithing Traditions. Coogan has previously taught blade-smithing workshops in the Metals Studio, and regularly attends Repair Days with his students. Coogan’s work has been included in thirteen Metal Museum exhibitions, including a solo show in 1990 entitled Beyond the Blade. He even wrote the entry for the Metal Museum in the 2004 publication Creating Traditions, Expanding Horizons: A History of Tennessee Arts.

According to Carol Martin, “Robert Coogan seems equally at home in fine jewelry, knife-making, and hollowware. In all these areas he combines exquisitely simple and graceful form with sensuous surface. His knives, often using mokumé-gane or Damascus steel, become pieces of sculpture that one would hesitate to use.” The Metal Museum currently had three works by Coogan in the permanent collection, two of which were donated to the Museum by the artist himself.

In 1990, Coogan donated a knife and a sculpture to the Museum. The knife has a Damascus steel blade, a brass guard, and a rosewood handle. Pierced Stack is a two-part abstract sculpture made from mokumé-gane and steel; it was included in the Metal Museum’s Winter 2014-2015 exhibition All That Glitters. The knife French Tickler was made by Coogan in 2007 and features a laminated wrought iron and tool steel blade, a mokumé-gane guard, and a rosewood handle. He made the knife for donor and former Metal Museum Director James Wallace as a retirement gift.

To see more of Bob Coogan’s work, check out his entry in the Metal Museum’s SNAG Slide Archive.

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