Meticulous with Metal

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Max Coffey likes metal.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Metal artist Max Coffey holds one of his pieces, a pig, near his trailer on a recent day. Coffey’s work ranges from $10 to $1,400.

If you look around his property, the supply of metal looks endless.

Stacks of different metal clutter the area mostly because he runs a trailer business that he will completely take over from his father in 2013.

But fixing trailers isn’t all Coffey does with the many steel parts.

Coffey makes wire baskets with horse shoes as stands, pigs out of aerosol refrigeration containers and metal scorpions that look like they could take over the landscape.

Each of his works are different and each seem to come alive in unique ways. In one item, a few horse shoes are transformed into a metal cowboy swinging a lasso over his head.

Another captures a praying mantis — alert and ready to make its next move. Some of his works are larger-than-life depictions, such as the praying mantis, or a scorpion that would be terrifying if it were real.

Coffey said he has built “this and that” over the better part of the last 10 years.

“I would get bored and decide to build something,” Coffey said.

His creations started one Christmas after a white elephant exchange where people fought over a horseshoe cowboy toilet paper stand. The item was a hit, and Coffey soon had orders for more.

“It was a popular item,” Coffey said. “I ended up making several more. I thought, there’s something going on here. People liked my stuff. I thought I should do something about it.”

So he, along with a Belen Art League member, entered into a show where he brought several of his items. Coffey said he enjoyed the experience despite not selling a lot of his work.

The metal worker said his creations come from two ways — driving down the street and seeing a certain item or having excess materials that make him wonder what he can come up with.

For instance, he said he drove past a century plant several times before he decided he wanted to make one out of metal. A century plant has a cacti-like base and eventually grows a flower stalk that can reach more than 20 feet tall.

He insists that when he gets an idea into his head, he has to build it.

From a young age, Coffey has been curious.

Family members said Coffey would take apart household items to figure out how they worked.

“When he was a little guy, I had an iron, and he’d tear it up and take it apart,” said his mother, Thelma. “He had to tear it out to see that it worked (a certain) way.”

Working with metal has become a second full-time job for the business owner.

But his second job has worked out nicely when the trailer business is slow.

“If I don’t have a trailer to fix, I’m working on my artwork,” he said.

Practicing his craft has paid off too.

He has noticed an improvement in his work over the years, and aspires to create pieces that are bigger and better.

On one piece, a turtle, he spent three to four days on, crafting the metal to make it look just right. Each piece of the shell was cut out separately and had to fit together like a puzzle.

Now, he has an order for one almost five times its size. He wants to build a 7-foot long tarantula spider complete with long, seemingly furry legs.

So far, his works range from $10 to about $1,400.

He has made a commitment to his craft and pays a monthly fee to rent a booth at Gifts Galore, a Bosque Farms art business, and he regularly goes to six or seven art shows each year.

Valencia County residents can purchase Coffey’s work at Gifts Galore, 1345 Bosque Farms Blvd., in Bosque Farms.

His wife, Kim, has become Coffey’s manager of sorts and has scheduled him to show off his work at shows that range from Ruidoso to Ft. Worth, Texas.

He said he “was really excited” when a Santa Fe shop owner offered to store some of his work in a business just off the plaza. His wife said traveling to shows becomes a family event.

“For us, it’s a vacation to do these shows,” said Kim. “We get to meet new people and see new things.”

Still, the metal worker likes to stay close to home because of the risk that he could come home empty-handed from a trip across state lines. He said if he stays close, the cost is minimal.

Coffey said he realizes most artists use their work to supplement their income — something he has become content with over the years. He admits fixing trailers pays the bills, but “isn’t much fun.”

But his artwork is his passion — something he has made a priority over the years.

His business, Max’s Metal Art, has fed his curiosity for making different pieces.

“It’s fun,” Coffey said. “It’s cool. I get an idea in my head and I gotta see how it’ll come out.”

Still, Coffey has aspirations to make other metal art that is bigger and more grand. He said the bigger the piece, the more time it takes to create items ranging from bugs to plants.

But bigger items don’t seem to bother the metal artist. He has already created items that are big in size, such as the century plants that are 12-foot tall. At least one of the plants predominantly sits on his property and could almost be mistaken for the real thing.

Other items, such as pigs, should become a popular item for next month’s Valencia County Hispano Chamber of Commerce’s annual matanza.

He says his artwork is a good contrast to the trailer business, where costumers want their property fixed right away. With his artwork, he can take his time and be meticulous.

“With art work, you can build it today and it might sit for a year,” he said.

But Coffey vows to keep up with his artwork no matter how busy his day job gets. He said he expects to create larger pieces in the near future.

“They will be bigger and more elaborate,” Coffey said.

Those who are interested in his work can call 259-4066.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.