Durham-based sculptor Joe Coates learned welding at age 15 from the aircraft mechanics at Topeka Municipal Airport, where his father was the manager. He used that skill to earn money, buying wrecked cars and repairing them for resale. Soon, he was creating metal sculptures “for the sheer joy of the creative process.”
Coates attended Duke University on a General Motors Scholarship, majoring in mechanical engineering and working professionally as an engineer for several years before switching gears to launch The Trail Shop, Inc., one of the first outdoor recreation shops in the Southeast. A lifelong adventurer, Coates counts mountain biking, whitewater kayaking and rock climbing among his many interests (notably, he completed first ascents of Alaska’s Cathedral Spires in the summer of 1976, alongside famed climber Royal Robbins), and frequently draws artistic inspiration from time spent in the natural world.
Coates credits his Duke Engineering degree for his ability to optimize strength and balance in designing his sculptures, and to draw on materials science knowledge to choose the best media with which to execute each concept.