Shelby ‘Robotman’ Cox
Dog walker, construction worker, cook and farmer are just a few of the jobs that Shelby Cox has had in his lifetime. He also worked as a carpet cleaner, organic gardener and construction worker. The most random job was as a “stunt show cowboy” at Elitch’s Gardens in Denver. It was a summer job when he was 22, and it brought him to Colorado for the first time.
Cox said he was part of the dubbed “Oklahoma Crew” that consisted of mostly acting students, except for him. Their stunts involved a quick-draw gunfight, falling off buildings and fighting with ax handles. One of the stunt men is now a Maytag repairman who lets Cox scour his retired inventory every year to find parts for his robot creations.
The most relevant experience to Cox’s current job as an artist was working as a mover with Little Guy Movers in college. Cox remembers the job fondly with its fun atmosphere. Knowing how to lift, move and safely transfer large items has come in handy when trying to move and ship his metallic robot creations from state to state. Cox has been known to personally transport his robots to his customers.
Cox started metal collecting while living in New Mexico in 2005. The pile kept growing until the family decided to relocate to Oroville, Wash., in 2011. Cox didn’t want to haul the pile, knowing if he did, he would never complete the robot he planned to fabricate.
So in the two weeks he was left to pack up the house, he built a 7-foot-tall robot – the first of many. When the movers arrived, they found a robot where the pile had been. They didn’t want to move it but were eventually persuaded.
Once in Washington, Cox immediately started gathering metal objects again. “I felt strongly that after the first one, I would plan the next one. I couldn’t wait. As soon as I got to Washington, I started hunting for metal and dragging it back. I kept it pretty small. I would go for walks with baby Ahvy (his daughter.)”
Also, people would bring him “stuff” like appliances, brakes and hot water heaters. He made a sled with a wired harness to pull metal back to his truck. He built the second robot in his driveway in Oroville. When he erected the final sculpture on his front lawn, next to the first, he heard a passing neighbor say, “What the fuck is that shit?” Cox said she didn’t know he was behind the robot. When he stepped out, the neighbor sped away.
Soon after, the family decided to return to their beloved Salida, where they had lived in 2000. Cox and his wife, Kayte McConaghy, lived in Salida for about five years the first time. To make Salida a reality the second time, McConaghy, a geologist, took a job working at the Climax Mine in Leadville. “My wife is the breadwinner, and I’m lucky enough that she supports me and wants me to keep doing this. And I do make some money.”
In six years, Cox has made 25 robots. The largest stands about 10 feet tall. One of his robots greets people when they enter Wood’s High Mountain Distillery in Salida. There is also a raft guide robot at Independent Whitewater and “Queebie the Stop Sign” behind Salida Cutlery and Smoke Shop.
All of his robots have back stories, and some have names. Cox said that real robots would have a service number, like a binary code. But he said people always want his robots to have human names, like George. “But then I think of George Mossman and he would say, ‘That looks nothing like me!’”
Cox named his business Robot Parade LLC because, as soon as he made one robot, he made another and another.
Flat panels are a newer concentration for the artist. Cox said he can make several per day, and they take up far less room than his robots. People have been requesting specific panels, like a cartoon character or their dog. “They are faster to create and smaller, and I can make one a day and sell it for $100 or $60 instead of putting a lot of time into one piece that might not sell. I make them all unique – robots and panels.”
Cox said his interest in creating robots and panels is in making them better and better. “One practices for the other. It’s so much fun to have different directions. Robots are exciting, but people don’t want to buy (multiple) robots, they are space-takers.”
He’s thinking about making smaller robots, ones that can sit on tables and maybe be a working lamp. Cox’s artwork is displayed at Sutty’s Downtown Records and Arts, Little Cambodia and Corvus Clothing & Curiosities.
He is currently showing work at Vino Salida Wine Cellars through the end of the month. His next show will start in September at Elevation Beer Co. You can also visit his newly revamped, “glitch-free” website (thanks to McConaghy) at RobotParadeArt.com.