In the early 1900s, when David Cohen’s forebears emigrated from Russia, they landed in Philadelphia and made their mark as best they could—founding an ironworks that would manufacture gates and rails for a great American city in the middle of a booming expansion. And when Cohen’s grandfather—and namesake—moved to the Gulf Gate area of Sarasota in the 1970s, he followed in their foundry footsteps, establishing Forms In Sculpture, a metalworks specializing in sculpture and restoration. Today, in the building his grandfather built, Cohen mans the anvil as a third-generation artist of the alloy, restoring antique hardware for a client list that spans the nation, and includes local treasures like The Ringling. And with his own offshoot company, Superior Spiral Stairs, Railings and Gates, outfitting architecture all across town—and doubling in size this year with a new fabrication shop off Derek Avenue—SRQ stopped in to meet the man behind the metal.

 David Cohen restoring metal in his new fabrication shop for superior spiral stairs, railings and gates. Photo by Evan Sigmund.

What metals do you work with the most? Cohen:With Forms In Sculpture, I work primarily with silver, copper, brass and pewter. With Superior Spiral Stairs, we primarily fabricate stairs, railings, gates and other items out of aluminum.

If these different metals had personalities, how would you describe them?  Silver reminds me of history and culture. Copper is ever changing. Brass is classic. Aluminum is lightweight and durable. 

What is the most difficult sculptural project you’ve worked on?  Good friends asked me to make a copper urn for their son, who had passed at an early age. He loved tropical fish, which is a passion of mine as well. The challenge for me was to make a scene of a clown fish that was both realistic but made you smile and remember him. It was an emotional creation and I wanted it perfect for them.

What do you find most rewarding about the work?  Metal is a media that is more complex and beautiful than one would think. Copper, for instance, over time gets a beautiful patina to it. When working with copper sculptures, I have the ability to not only create a one-of-a-kind piece but can use heat with a torch to bring out different colors, such as red, blue, green and orange. Growing up within an artistic family, my passion for creating has become a reality. I’m able to express myself because each piece, whether a sculpture, railing or stair, is one of a kind and allows my creativity to flow through it from start to finish.


Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Why do spiral staircases never seem to go out of style?  The helical shape of a spiral stair is beautiful. I can make them more modern with different railing shapes, but also bring them back in time with ornamental scrollwork. They are truly timeless.

Metalworking is a family business going back generations. What has changed and what has stayed the same?  At Forms In Sculpture, the techniques and tools remain the same. We are working on historical items, so the tools they used to make the items are used to repair them. We still use machines from the early 1950s to polish metalwork and even older tools like anvils for burnishing metal and repairs. Superior Spiral Stairs involves the welding and fabrication of aluminum. The newer technology of the inverter welders makes this more proficient and cost-effective. Plasma and water jet cutters cut aluminum clean and fast. 

What is the first metalworking project you ever made?  My dad started me out on making wall-hanging nail sculptures out of horseshoe nails and a small fisherman that would counterbalance with a large fish at the end of the line. I was young, probably 10 or so, witha torch in my hand! They were fun to make and I sold them in the shop
to make a few extra bucks.

Where do you find your artistic inspiration? My father and grandfather were great metal sculptors. I see their work on a daily basis around my home, the shop and around town. It’s a constant reminder of the talent I am capable of and this feeds my inspiration.

What lesson from your father or grandfather do you still follow
to this day? 
Suit up and show up every day. Gratitude. Take time out of the day for David.