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. 

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