For Mick Coogan of Coogan Glass and Steel Works, a typical Saturday morning starts at one of the local scrap metal recycling yards, combing through piles of rusty metal of all shapes and sizes. These yards, off limits to the general public, allow select local artists to look through the piles of discarded metal, filling their trucks with supplies for their projects.
"Sometimes I'll see a certain piece of metal and get an idea, sometimes I'll have an idea for a piece I want to make and I'll have a list of material to look for," said Coogan.
Coogan specializes in large abstract art pieces for patios and gardens, but also creates smaller pieces for indoor accents. He will often go to the scrap yard where they ask what he could possibly want with such strange materials, but all the while in his mind's eye is a finished work of art. Such was the case with a big roll of pencil-sized, twisted steel wire which, when welded to a gas-main cap and some other metal pieces became a beautiful five-foot long floating 'man-o-war.' Many of Coogan's pieces have a sea and sea-creature theme, as he has spent many years on and around the Sakonnet River.
For Coogan, his success has been through word of mouth, with much of his work heading to the west coast, including into the homes of some well known celebrities.
"I don't like to mention names," said Coogan, "because I don't want people to buy my pieces because someone famous owns one. I want them to buy it because they like my work."
Branson, Missouri is another location where Coogan's work has found a home. Several local establishments along the South Coast also feature Coogan's artwork on their walls.
And most of the pieces are created to order, sometimes taking one of the samples in and around the grounds of his studio and tailoring it to fit a certain space or design. Sometimes, the customer will have a certain space in which they would like a sculpture and Coogan will go and look at the space, sketch out an idea and following approval from the customer and creation of the piece, he will install the sculpture in its new home.
Some sculptures, Coogan said, go right together from concept through completion of the piece. Some, however, he may work on for a while, then take a step back and either take it in another direction or cut it up put it back in the scrap pile and "let it come to life in something else later on."
Coogan started welding "out of necessity" about 20 years ago, when he was restoring a 1957 Chevy in his garage. With no background in welding and no thought of becoming a sculptor, he learned how to weld. When not working on the car, Coogan would pick up scrap pieces of metal around the boatyard where he worked part time and weld them together.
"People were intrigued and would ask if the pieces were for sale," recalled Coogan. The sculptor said he would create one piece, sell it, make another piece, all while investing the proceeds into better tools and equipment.
"I just love doing it," he added.
That craft also includes work in antique stained glass window and mirror creations, sometimes having as many as one hundred of the windows on hand in all sorts of shapes and sizes. He also restores and sells antique furniture. But Coogan's passion is in the metalwork, working with stainless, galvanized and cold-rolled steel, using different solutions of acids and other preparations of the metal – including the waters of the Sakonnet River – to lend a special patina to the metal.
One of the projects with a special meaning to Coogan is a life-size metal sculpture of a soldier sitting on his wall. Coogan started the project when a friend deployed to Iraq, continued work on it while the friend was deployed and finished the project for his friend's return to the states. The sculpture wears boots that were in the Vietnam War, and a helmet from the Korean War. The soldier also has a heart-shaped American flag within his chest.
There are a couple of projects coming up that Coogan is especially looking forward to working on.
One is a tribute to the firefighters and families of New York City who were affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. This project will use parts from a retired Maxim fire truck Coogan found on one of his trips to the scrap yard. The sculpture will feature silhouettes of firefighters heading off to a fire. Coogan hopes to have these pieces placed throughout the New York Fire Department system in memory of those who lost their lives in Sept. 11 and those who protect us each and every day.
He is also planning a similar project for the Wounded Warrior Project using parts he has found from retired large military vehicles and helicopters. Coogan plans to donate proceeds from the military sculptures to the Wounded Warriors Project to help provide services to severely wounded servicemen and women returning from overseas.
For more information, visit cooganglassandsteelworks.com. Coogan's studio is on the property of Peter's Attic at 8 Neck Road in Tiverton Four Corners. He can be reached at 401-835-0117.