Graduating in 1993 with a BA (Hons) in Art Education Studies from The University of Wales, Melissa embarked on a successful full time career working with her chosen medium of sculpture made predominantly using traditional forging techniques. In 2007 Melissa was awarded a prestigious 'Bronze Medal' from The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in recognition of the blacksmithing skills seen in her public and private work and the successful forging-in-schools projects. This makes Melissa a Fellow of The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths and she is now regarded as a Master Blacksmith.
Trained as a traditional blacksmith by her father Hector Cole FWCB, Melissa started making bespoke domestic iron work for private homes and hotels; curtain poles, window furniture, lighting, gates and railings are still made to order.
Smaller sculptural work is created from re-forged antique wrought iron, sourced from restoration projects across the country. Larger work is made from other metals, steel, stainless steel and copper using a combination of traditional and contemporary making techniques.
Following the success of Chippenham Community Art Project which Melissa devised and raised funds for, she was commissioned by Dolby Laboratories Inc. to create a large projecting wall sculpture for their European H.Q. in Wootton Bassett. This important commission enabled Melissa to develop her sculpture work alongside the commissioned pieces and schools work.
Specializing in giving young people the opportunity to create their own work on the forge, she has visited over 35 school and community groups across the south of England. Various projects that Melissa has worked on have been funded by Arts Council England including equipment funding. Schools projects funded by The National Lottery, Barclays New Futures, The Ironmongers Company and The Golsoncott Foundation.
Moving to her forge on the edge of Savernake Forest near Marlborough in 2001, Melissa was awarded a Setting Up Grant from ACE Southern Arts. Subsequently she developed the Puthall Park Sculpture Show a major event for anyone wishing to experience or buy contemporary outdoor sculpture. Featuring a wide range of large-scale sculptures and installations in an outdoor setting, the exhibition includes over 100 pieces by 40 professional and developing artists working in a variety of media, including: ceramics, glass, metal, stone, wood, plastic and concrete.
Forging with steel and antique wrought iron
Most of Melissa's work is forged in a traditional coal forge from mild steel, a readily available and relatively easy metal to work with. This can be finished with zinc; galvanising or hot zinc spraying to prevent rust and then a top coat which can inject a splash of unexpected colour and even metallic sparkle – this is a recognisable aspect of her forge work! The use colour on architectural metal work – gates and railings often lifts a simple design and makes a statement throughout the year. Metal doesn't always look its best in black as it flattens all the hammer work which is a distinct feature of Melissa's work!
Some of the smaller garden sculptures are re-forged from antique wrought iron sourced from restoration projects in old buildings and churches around the country. Wrought iron has a low carbon content which makes it softer to work on the anvil but more unpredictable. The iron has a grain similar to wood and asking the metal to make forms against its natural grain and pushing her technical skills is a feature of Melissa's work.
Wrought iron has to be worked at a higher temperature than steel and does not corrode in the same way as steel. The finished work can be treated with zinc or painted. Where possible the work can be waxed and allowed to develop a patinated surface that shows the natural quality of the iron. These works can be shown inside or out.
Bronze is a new venture for Melissa. Having some new work cast from original forged pieces; taking a mould from the forgings allows for the exact reproduction of each hammer blow. The bronze work Melissa has done recently has been with artist Nick Davis at his foundry where she is directly involved in all the complex casting processes, including the fettling and patination.
New work can be seen at The Shed Space Gallery, please contact Melissa if you would like to visit or to discuss commissioning a sculpture or work for your house or garden. Working with clients to create pieces that fulfil their requirements and challenge design and making skills id an enjoyable aspect of Melissa's work.
If you are new to the commissioning process, Melissa can give you some advice and guidance. Usually larger projects or purchases are paid in instalments which often helps both parties!
Major commissions include
2011 Selected artist YAA Asantewaa Carnival Village Entrance Gates, Notting Hill, London.
2011 Selected artist, The Slade Public Art Commission, Oxford.
2011 Selected artist, Wootton and Drysandford community centre project.
2010 Knowle House entrance gates in white.
2009 Rabley Contemporary Drawing Centre, entrance gates and side panels.
2009 Stockcross House, Newbury, double garden gates and panels in red.
2008 Westbury Chantry Court commission, double vehicle gates and railings.
2006 Greatham Primary School, Hampshire. National Lottery artist in residence.
2002 'Jubilation' 4 m stainless steel sculpture. Private commission, Wiltshire
2001 Chippenham Town Bridge Competition. Winner of an international competition to design new railings for the main town bridge over the River Avon.
1997 'Sound Waves' Wall-mounted entrance piece for Dolby Laboratories European Head Quarters, Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire.
Publications, Press and Television
Garden Design Journal January 2010
BBC 1 Countryfile Sunday 21st June 2009
Feature on Melissa at work.
Grand Designs Channel 4 March 2009
Rabley Barn Gates Commission
BBC Radio Four Woman’s Hour
First aired in 2007 and repeated since Melissa was talking about her role as a blacksmith in society today and the positive challenges of female blacksmiths, producer Isobel Eaton spent a morning at her forge and tried her hand at blacksmithing. Listen again
Wiltshire Life Magazine April 2005, February 2004.
Chroma, August 2004.
Western Daily Press, West Country Life Supplement, June 2004.
Artist Blacksmith, Autumn 2002.
Period Living & Traditional Homes, April 2000.
Cotswold Life Magazine, March 1999.
Times Educational Supplement, April 1999.