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An Interview with: CHRISTINE COX

Conducted by:  Kathy Wasilewski

In 2007 this interview appeared in the International Society of Altered Book Artist's magazine, Altered Words, and is reprinted here with permission. If you'd like to join ISABA visit their website at:


When I think of metal-crafting, I think of Christine Cox.  Her name is synonymous with not only being a great source for metal-crafting projects and ideas, but as a valuable source for the tools and materials needed in creating these projects.  Her website, www.volcanoarts.com, supplies many of the materials needed for creating those wondrous metal creations.

ISABA: How did you become interested in creating metal art, and how did you get started? 

CHRISTINE:  Back when I was working as a credit manager for a big company I took a class at Studio One in Oakland, CA.  We made simple silver rings and I was absolutely hooked.  The fact that I was able to sell some very, very simple metal earrings afterwards, at work, was the “icing on the cake.”  I puttered around with metal during the next few years but got sidetracked by rubber stamping and bookbinding.  Around 2001, I took a class with Tracy and Teesha Moore and that got me interested in metal again because they showed me that I could put metalsmithing and bookbinding together in really funky, cool ways. The class gave me all kinds of inspiration and motivation and I continued taking classes and improving my skills steadily.  I then started teaching classes featuring metal-covered books.

A few years ago, I took a week-long class from Tim McCreight at the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts in Portland.  That class opened the flood gate of metal inspiration for me.  I look back on it now and while I did learn an unbelievable amount of metal fabrication from Tim during the class, it was his generous spirit, democratic teaching style, passion and knowledge of his medium that affected me the most.  Somehow, I absorbed that from him and brought it home with me.  Now, working with and teaching metalsmithing is my passion and my comfort.  I explore new media and technique all of the time, but metalsmithing is my sanctuary.

ISABA:  What inspires you to create your marvelous works of art, and how do you go about planning each piece?

CHRISTINE:   Thank you! 

I usually back into my pieces.  I’ll want to learn a technique, try a new product, or practice with a tool, and so I’ll plan a piece around that goal.  I think that I’m fairly left-brained, so I approach projects very systematically; i.e., these are the tools that I need, this is the materials list, or these are the articles or books with the information.  In my journal, I draw out any mechanical systems (like hinges), or work out in what order things have to be done.  Then, I start working on the piece.  Sometimes things can percolate for weeks or months, so I have many projects resting on my mind’s shelves at any given time.  If I could execute half of what I plan out in my journals, I’d be a very prolific artist indeed!

ISABA:  What are the things that you like the most in working with metals?

CHRISTINE:  I love that there’s always more to learn and the feeling that I can make anything that I want.  Metalsmithing made me more observant of the world around me because I now notice how things work or are put together….I don’t feel so surrounded by mechanical and scientific mysteries.  A friend of mine once commented that she didn’t understand how houses “work”.  The whole idea of what was going on behind the walls was a mystery.  That’s how my world was before I started metalsmithing, and now I have a small peephole into what’s going on behind the “walls.”

I love how metals work so seamlessly with other media…glass, paper, mica, wood, fabric, etc. Metal can be a flat, hard, cold sheet, or it can be an evocative, tactile, flowing piece of colorful form.  It’s practical, frivolous, and life-saving.  Everyone sees something different in it…art, science, wealth.  It can be melted, bent, hardened, colored, coiled, etched, soldered, and alloyed with other metals to become something else completely.  My little “hamster brain” loves the variety, energy, and challenges of working with something so open to my goals and ideas.

ISABA:  What are some of the hardest things that you have discovered in working with metals?

CHRISTINE:  I can’t think of one negative thing.  I mean, some people are allergic to a certain metal or chemical, or I might not have the hand-strength to form a heavy-gauge piece of metal, or someone might be afraid of a power tool…but there are ways around most of it.  Working with thinner metal or annealing it in a torch flame softens it so that it can be manipulated more easily.  Someone with the right chemical, machine, or tool can be hired (or begged) for a particularly difficult step; goggles and masks are available for your protection.  Metalsmithing can be difficult if we make it that way, but it won’t come to us. We have to adapt to the medium and our own conditions.  In terms of satisfaction and inspiration, it’s worth a reach across the divide.

Maybe if there’s any negative to working with metal at all, it’s that we might not have the experience in our lives to make us "forge" ahead and try things that are unfamiliar.  I’m projecting, of course, because that’s what stopped me from trying more challenging projects for years.  There were all these tiny little holes in my knowledge or skill that I let stop me from going further.  After years of struggling and experimenting on my own, that is the dam that Tim’s class broke for me, and that’s what I hope fervently that people take away from my classes.

 ISABA:  There are various forms of metal…tin, copper, steel, etc.  Could you explain some of the basic “positive” and “negative” qualities in working with each?

CHRISTINE:  My experience in working with tin is cutting apart old cookie and tea tins and then riveting the pieces to other things.  Copper and sterling-silver are my primary materials.  They’re easy to color, form, solder, drill, saw, etch, enamel and so much more!  Steel is marvelous for its strength.  I use steel nails and bar stock to make my own chisels and simple chasing tools.  I get a great feeling of satisfaction when a tool that I made is exactly right for the job at hand. 

ISABA:  How can working with metal help to enhance the altered-book artist?  In other words, what are some suggestions on how metal-crafting and altered books could be used together?

CHRISTINE:  The mind boggles with the possibilities!  Have you seen Nina Bagley’s work or Marcia Engeltjes work?  They both use metal “on” and “in” books in amazing ways!  Here are a few quick ideas:

  1. Closures for holding bulging altered books closed.
  2. Copper eyelets holding mica and copper mesh pages together.
  3. Sheet metal eyeleted, or riveted, to the front of an old book cover.
  4. Copper or brass mesh wrapped around the spine of a book to cover the stitching, or sew through the mesh and the stitches will show on the outside.
  5. Thin gauges of metal can be folded around book board for covers.
  6. Metal corners can easily be added to the corners of an altered book to protect them from wear or to hide wear from their previous life.
  7. Charms can be dangled from bookmarks.
  8. Hinges can be added to dress up a store-bought album.