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metal casting

Last week, I was in Birmingham, Alabama, for the National Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art & Practices (NCCCIAP). The backdrop for this biennial event was Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, a truly a remarkable venue that stands out as America’s only blast furnace from the last century being preserved and interpreted as an historic industrial site. There was a great slate of activities for the NCCCIAP, including hands-on demonstrations, mold making workshops, student cupola competitions, guest furnace demonstrations, panel discussions, and art exhibitions. The grassroots, intergenerational character of the NCCCIAP was incredibly inspiring, and I hope to get back to Sloss for the next iteration of this event.

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In fall 2015, I taught an advanced sculpture course in the West Virginia University School of Art and Design focusing specifically on metal casting processes. One of the assignments for this class involved creating both a cast bronze sculpture and a customized container for this sculpture. I asked the students to think of this project as a 21-st century reliquary, engaging broader conceptual issues of memory, belief, history, family, spirituality, and time. There was also a strong writing and research component to this assignment, which enabled students to develop their ideas more fully over the course of the term.

For this project, students were required to make their bronze patterns using 3D printing and scanning processes. Most of these students had never cast bronze before, so 3D printing their patterns forced them to work at a smaller, more accessible scale. This technology also helped students get intricate pattern detail much faster than conventional pattern making. In addition, PLA plastic patterns can be burned out of investment molds just like wax patterns, which allowed students to learn the most fundamental principles of lost wax casting.

Students began this project by gathering family heirlooms, memorabilia, keepsakes, and other personal objects they deemed important. Next, they used a rotational tabletop 3D scanner to record these objects. Some students worked directly, scanning items imbued with personal significance & sentimental attachment, while other students invented or modified objects that evoked these strong qualities of memory. From these scans, PLA plastic prints were created using a MakerBot Replicator Mini Compact 3D Printer. To offset the material needs of this endeavor, I was happy to receive an Academic Innovation Technology Integration Grant from the West Virginia University Teaching & Learning Commons Sandbox

Students then assembled these patterns onto wax sprue systems & embedded them in traditional plaster and sand investment molds. After the patterns were evacuated from the molds in a burn out kiln, these hot molds were transported to the foundry area and filled with molten bronze. Students then explored finishing and patina processes to clean up their bronze castings, while resolving the final version of their sculptures using a variety of fabrication, construction, and display methods. I think my students successfully bridged the gap between traditional sculpture making processes and emerging technologies with this project, resulting in some excellent solutions to the idea of a contemporary reliquary.

After an intense summer filled with numerous teaching obligations & round-the-clock art-making, I am happy to announce the opening of my solo exhibition Match Cut in the West Virginia University Creative Arts Center’s Laura Mesaros Gallery. On view from September 1-October 2, this show explores our collective need for classification and organization, especially as the desires and limitations of our organic bodies conflict with this quest for order. I use various fabrication techniques and meticulous craftsmanship to explore these conceptual interests, manipulating iconic imagery & familiar objects from our educational, governmental, and scientific institutions in order to draw attention to the impermanent & transitory nature of cultural authority.

This exhibition takes its title, Match Cut, from a film editing technique where seamless transitions between scenes help draw together the visual, metaphorical connections between objects and actions. I drew inspiration from this cinematic device, creating a series of cast & forged metal sculptures, mixed media panel works, and manipulated found object pieces that are cozily familiar yet imbued with surreal, dreamlike qualities. I really like the way this new body of work fits together, and I look forward to creating more artwork in the same vein.

Here are two recently completed cast iron school desk sculptures, from the 39 & Holding series. To create these sculptures, I first placed sunflowers on the desk tops, and then resin bonded sand molds were packed around these forms. After the molds hardened, the desks & sunflowers were removed and the pieces were cast as open-faced molds. The first piece in this series collapsed during casting, but its irregular form was incredibly intriguing, so I decided to work with the casting in this raw state. After being cast, these pieces were heated & finished with a brass brush & paste wax, which gave them a rich, lustrous finish.

The title of this series references the classic Jerry Lee Lewis song “39 & Holding,” a tune about the inevitable cycles of aging which became considerably more relevant in the past couple of years as I transitioned out of my thirties. I decided to carve thirty-nine hash marks into each of the molds, creating a deep, gestural tally to signify the passage of time. Sunflowers have long been featured in both art and religion as symbolic markers of growth and decay, and they were a prominent fixture in the rural landscape where I grew up, so I had a range of conceptual, art historical, and auto-biographical reasons for using these flowers as imagery.

This past month has been a period of great activity in the West Virginia cast iron community. Shepherd University hosted their fall iron pour early in November and a week later, the sculpture program at West Virginia University hosted our fall iron pour. I am pleased that Shepherd University sculpture coordinator Christian Benefiel, Fairmont State University sculpture coordinator Jeremy Entwistle, and myself have continued to collaborate and get our student involved to make these events run in a safe and efficient manner. The palpable teamwork and camaraderie exhibited by all participants has affirmed my belief that a vibrant cast iron community is emerging in our state. Here’s some images and videos from our events, big thanks goes out to students Violet Goode and Hannah Hicks for documenting our iron pour at WVU.

By far my favorite project from the past year was our Fall 2013 Iron Pour. Held on Friday, November 8, at the West Virginia University Creative Arts Center, this event helped inaugurate “Sputnik”, a portable iron-casting furnace that Fairmont State University sculpture faculty Jeremy Entwistle and I began building over the summer. Our pour crews cast around 3000 pounds of iron over the course of the day, which exceeded expectations for the capacity and durability of this new furnace. We also had excellent media coverage and a healthy turnout from the public, all of which contributed to making this event a resounding success.

Jeremy and I and students from our respective programs were joined by Shepherd University sculpture faculty Christian Benefiel and his students, as well as friends from the Pittsburgh iron casting community. In addition, alumni Emily Walley, Brett Kern, Jennifer Rockage McGhee, and Jamie Lester were invited to be visiting artists for the event, all of who cast iron for the first time.

Local businesses, including Construction Supply Company (CSC), 3 Rivers Iron and Metal, and Jack’s Recycling generously contributed materials and supplies for the iron pour. In addition, local metal fabrication company Wilson Works gave us great technical support by cutting out precision parts for “Sputnik”, and Morgantown restaurant Atomic Grill provided catered food for the event.

Big thanks goes out to Daniela Londoño Bernal for photographing this event, as well as Glynis Board from West Virginia Public Broadcasting for her excellent radio segment, which can be found here. The radio story also included a short video documenting the pour, which is linked below.

This past weekend, my colleague Jeremy Entwistle and I took students from our respective sculpture programs at Fairmont State University and West Virginia University to Salem, New York, for the 7th Annual Intercollegiate Iron Pour at Salem Art Works (SAW). We were invited to SAW by their Foundry Director Michael “Bones” Bonadio, who was a visiting artist for our sculpture programs last spring. The weather all weekend was spectacular, there was a great spirit of camaraderie, and we had the distinction of traveling the farthest of any schools in attendance, all of which contributed to making this a worthwhile journey. Besides the iron pour, other highlights of this event included a Friday night pyrotechnic performance, The Temporally Coincident Occurences of Causal Events, by New England Sculpture Service Manager of Operations Marjee Levine and students from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, an inspiring guest lecture by veteran iron artist Joe McCreary, and some terrific exhibitions of artworks created by both emerging artists and iron pour attendees.