Wednesday, April 8, 2015

BREAKING THE MOLD : National Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art

Joining over 250 delegates from around the country at the historic SLOSS Furnaces in Birmingham, AL, Associate Professor of Sculpture Coral Penelope Lambert along with Students Ronda Phipps Kevin Dart, Lily Montgomery, Michelle Kwiecien, Jon Moreno and Foundry Tech Kate Graves  hit the road to participate in the 2015 National Cast Iron Conference, “Breaking the Mold”.
Embarking before dawn on Wednesday, March 25, our group settled in for the 946 mile drive. We left the land of ice and snow with anticipation of adventures in the southern climes. The drive was long (almost 20 hours, including the pit stop at Shack in the Back in Fairdale, KY).
Birmingham was bright with lights as we rolled in well after midnight, excited to see what the new day would bring.

The scale of the site, and its industrial heritage, make it a perfect location for the bi-annual National Conference. Operational between 1882-1971, the website describes their current incarnation as “the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the U.S. being preserved and interpreted as an historic industrial site. The dramatic scale and complexity of the plant’s industrial structure, machines and tools make the Sloss collection a unique contribution to the interpretation of twentieth-century ironmaking technology and presents a remarkable perspective on the era when America grew to world industrial dominance.”

We pulled up to the new Visitor Center on Thursday morning to meet old and new friends, after registering we installed sculpture and got right to it participating in panels, presentations and demos.
The 20x20 event which was an opportunity to hear speakers on different topics in a fast paced 6 minute line up of presentations, including Michelle Kwiecien and Lily Montgomery who presented work in Glass and Iron as well as Coral Penelope who presented an overview of the National Casting Center Foundry activities.

'UNLIKELY COLLABORATORS: People, Process + Material' by Michelle Kwiecien + Lily Montgomery

'MOLDING FERROUS MINDS' by Coral Penelope Lambert

The new Visitors Center Gallery hosted the juried exhibit in which Coral, Ronda, Kevin, Michelle, and Alfred Alum Paige Henry had work on show.
Ronda Phipps

Michelle Kwiecien

Paige Henry
Coral Penelope Lambert 'Volcano Furnace : Mini Cuppola' with prints form the Volcano Furnace + Flight of the Pheonix Performance in Latvia with Jenny Hager, Cynthia Handel, Suzi Roewer, Andreas Glaser + Daniel Jenson.
Each day during the conference panels were offered covering a range of aspects related to the current practice of Cast Iron Art. Graduate candidate  Kevin Dartt Moderated his panel on “Thermodynamics of Alternative Fuels in Iron Melting Furnaces” with panelists Christian Benefiel and fellow Alfred graduate candidate Ronda Wright-Phipps.

Associate Professor Coral Penelope Lambert presented and discussed her 'Volcano Furnace: Fire + Iron Earthwork' on the panel “Cast Iron Performance Art; Current Trends and Historical Context”  alongside performance iron artists George Beasley, Matt Toole, Marjee Levine and Allen Peterson moderated by Hopi Breton.

Ronda Phipps invited conference delegates to participate in her ongoing 'SaFe' project, a social practice Iron Casting project working with LGBT.
Alfred Alum and Conference Volunteer Rosemarie Oakman was in attendance at SLOSS representing the Alzheimer's Glass and Iron project the she founded at Alfred University, now operating out of Salem Art Works. Rosemarie represented SAW on the organizational panel “Salem Art Works: 9 Years of Casting Outside the Box” with other panelists Nikki Moser from Scranton IronWorks and Rian Kerrane from the University of Colordao.
The National Conference is a great way for everyone to stay connected and keep abreast of opportunities in the field.
Pictured above are alumni Paige Henry And Jeremy Entwistle.
Sophomore Jon Moreno came ready to assist in pour crew operations and took this video of the large mold workshop that Paige was participating in.
All sorts of furnaces were put to the test, with the student cupola contest and production pours here we see Whitey the Sloss 1000# tapper which is permanently sited at Sloss and then Graduate Student Stacey Rathberts furnace that she bought up from the University of Mississippi. There was also the trash can furnace from California amongst many demos including patinas, powder coating with Alair Wells, cuttlebone molds and rapid prototyping.
The weather was great which was a good job as AU Foundry Tech Kate Graves brought her watercolor kit to begin a new painting for her post-industrial plein air painting series.

Kate Graves 'Sloss' watercolor painted during the national conference
 Here are some shots of Sloss said to be haunted in some places.
Field trips that connected the history of iron with the present in Birmingham included a visit to a big operational steel foundry and to North America’s largest free standing cast iron sculpture of Vulcan.
From the largest to the smallest .... Coral contacted the curator of the Royal Prussian Iron Works Collection, Anne Forschler-Tarrasch at the Birmingham Art Museum for a private tour. It turns out they have a total of 1,000 Napoleonic war era objects made of cast iron in storage which was kindly made available for our small group to examine and touch.
Here we see Coral Penelope and George Beasley with the curator Anne Forschler Tarasch getting up close in the archives and Liz Helfer examining the collection on permanent display.
 The tour concluded with a book signing of the comprehensive catalog “European Cast Iron: the Gustav Lamprecht and Maurice Garbaty Collections“ authored and graciously gifted a copy to each of us by Ms. Forschler Tarrasch.
The conference ended on Saturday with a delicious barbecue dinner, awards and closing ceremony followed by two performances.

The clouds parted in time for the crowd to watch the University of Minnesota and Andrew Marsh’s Lucky 7 Arts pyrotechnic displays, recorded for posterity by an attendee piloting a drone.

We send a Big Thank You to the Conference Steering Committee and the Conference Chairs : Marjee Levine and Noah Kirby as well as all of the organizers on the ground at Sloss in particular Heather Guy Novak .... from all of us at The National Casting Center Foundry at Alfred, we had an inspirational time!
Thank You also to our funders at Alfred University who made the trip possible :
Dean Leslie Bellavance
The Sculpture Dimensional Studies Division
Alfred Foundry Guild
The National Casting Center Foundry
We look forward to steeping forward in Iron Heritage with you at the next one in 2017 !

Saturday, February 28, 2015

MARSHA PELS 'Brooklyn Redux' at ALFRED

After meeting in Miami at the International Sculpture Conference Iron Pour in 2013 plans were set afoot to invite Marsha Pels to cast new work at the National Casting Center Foundry @ Alfred
Marsha Pels is internationally known for sculpture which includes a range of labor-intensive cast and fabricated objects, working with cast metal and glass, multi-media installations and outdoor site-specific pieces. Pels defines spaces within site-specific contexts in order to create poetically charged psychological and political landscapes.

She has been featured in Sculpture Magazine and the recipient of numerous awards including the NYC Public Art Fund Grant, Prix de Rome, Fulbright Senior Scholar in Germany, Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, and most recently; the Adolf and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Individual Support Grant.
She serves on the board of Triangle Arts Association and has maintained a studio in Brooklyn, NY since 1981

‘To Fly, To Drive’   Fluorescent lights, cast epoxy resin and fiberglass, 1997 V-8 Lincoln engine, plastic and bronze chains, ivy, steel cable
The process involved to cast the new work was discussed and planned during an initial visit to her Brooklyn Studio with Alfred Foundry Director, Coral Penelope.
This recent series of sculptures 'Brooklyn Redux' addresses the gentrification of her Brooklyn neighborhood of 30 years. The transformation of an industrial warehouse district on the abandoned waterfront into luxury condo corridor is a perfect example of something considered invaluable becoming extremely valuable. 
'In searching for a conceptual framework in which to make this series, I am grateful to my friend Rudi Baltera, who turned me onto “Berlin Iron Jewellery”. It’s history seemed like an appropriate metaphor for what I wanted to say about the ever-changing value of cultural currency. Twice in Germany’s history (during the Napoleonic Wars and at the onset of WW I), German citizens contributed their gold and silver jewellerey towards funding the war effort. In exchange, they were given cast iron jewellery made at The Royal Berlin Foundry.
It became a symbol, not only of patriotism and loyalty, but a signifier of women who sacrificed their gold to the Fatherland.  Iron, which until then was considered a proletarian and industrial metal, gained intrinsic value and was used to create delicate and complicated finery.The two pieces recently cast at The National Casting Center Foundry at Alfred University are directly fashioned from 18 C historical models: the hair comb (with cameos of the last 3 New York City mayors and their respective wives and mistresses) and the chatelaine (with monograms of construction equipment).
Many, many thanx to Coral Penelope, her technicians and students, who made these pieces possible.  Ironically, Coral and I have been exchanging jewellery since we met. Maybe one day it will be Berlin Iron Jewellery… or something even better.'
Marsha Pels, Brooklyn March 2015
 Since the initial studio visit Marsha had made some exciting modifications to the work, instead of buildings on the top of the comb now portraits of the mayors of NYC and their wives would sit in a parade of cameos. The Chatelaine had become much more intricate and ornate with settings for glass gems that will be added to the casting at a later date. The mayors portraits will be etched in glass.
Marsha Pels met with the Intro to Sculpture Class at the NCC Foundry to talk about the concept behind the work after which they assisted in mixing and ramming the first half of the molds, a total of 10 molds were made for the new work. Resin bonded sand was used for making cope and drag two part molds. The plasticene patterns first had to be prepared using petrobond sand, an oil based sand for creating a false bottom and support for the curvature of the 'Comb' piece. The plasticene patterns were talced before ramming to ensure easy release. The 'Chatelaine' and 'Keys' could be molded flat. All molds needed wooden flasks and bottom boards to contain the sand, a total of 4300# of resin bonded sand was mixed and rammed for all the molds.
After the drags had been rammed the molds were prepared to ram the copes that will created the two part molds. Under the guidance of Foundry Director Coral Penelope and the assistance from Foundry Tech, Kate Graves the lifting systems to flip the molds were put in place. Here you can see the lifter bars that will help to open the mold for pulling out the pattern and drilling sprues and vents which will allow the metal to pour into the mold. An assortment of drills are used to carve feeder channels and runner bars to feed the metal to the sculptures.

Once both parts of the sand molds are made the delicate job of pulling and picking out the plasticene patterns begins, with Marsha working on a tight schedule only being at Alfred for the week greatly appreciated help was enlisted from Graduate Students Leanna Quade (above) and Joel Isaak.
Mid week Marsha took a break from the sweat and logistics of foundry labor and joined the Sculpture Dimensional Studies Graduate Professional Practice Seminar to discuss the pros and cons of participating in International Residencies, she discussed the Triangle Workshop opportunities as well her Prix De Rome and Fulbright Fellowship experiences. Following the Seminar she held individual studio crits with the 9 SDS Graduate Students. To finish off the day she presented her inspirational story to the whole School of Art and Design, of being a long time artist in New York, including dumpster diving with Louise Bourgeois, the lecture was extremely well attended.
 Marsha is seen here putting the final touches on the molds before they close to have the hot metal poured. These molds are only used once so there is a lot of anticipation and everything has to be just right. Mold Wash is applied to ensure the best detail is captured. The molds wash is a mix of powdered graphite and denatured alcohol, the powder fills in between the grains of sand to assist detail and the denatured alcohol allows the wash to be set alight to cure as well as ensure that no moisture is left inside the mold. The molds have to be absolutely clear of any plasticene and obstructions to enable the metal flow. 
On the day of the Pour the metal, aluminum in this case is melted in the large capacity gas powered furnace. The crucible holds #150 of aluminum and two melts were needed to pour all of the molds. The molds are lined up with easy access to each of the mold cups and the crew using the overhead hoist carefully move down the line to pour each mold. Here we see Marsha on the ladle live end, pouring, Grad student Kevin Dartt on ladle dead end, Coral Penelope on crane control, Grad Student Joel Isaak on Lid + Safety and Foundry Tech Kate Graves on Skimmer. 
The molds are left over night and opened up the next morning to reveal beautiful successful castings ! Here you see the 'Comb' still in its mold, it is attached to the cope where the sprues and vents are keeping it secure. Once those are cut off the demolding and chasing process can start.
 Once demolded from the resin bonded sand the castings are rough chased using cutting discs and grinding wheels on a 4.5 angle grinder. Fine chasing and patina work will be done in Marsha's Brooklyn studio.
The main part of the Chatelaine is about 4ft wide and here you can see the Keys attached, the Keys are an assortment of cranes and bulldozers. This total ten feet work will eventually be exhibited as wall piece.
The Cameos will be welded onto the Comb and the glass portraits attached to finish the piece.
Marsha Pels and Associate Professor of Sculpture Coral Penelope amongst the mold rubble. It was a pleasure working together and we look forward to seeing the finished pieces completed with their glass components in situ !
Funded by The National Casting Center Foundry, The Sculpture Dimensional Studies Division and the SDS Graduate Program @ Alfred.
A big Thank You to all the students at the NCC Foundry @ Alfred that helped out with the production of New Work by Marsha Pels.