Forging a community
Story and Photos By Jen Mosier
Karly Spell, co-owner of Art Casting of Illinois, Inc., opened up her bronze-casting foundry to host an iron pour. Students ignited three cupola furnaces to melt cast iron on the original site of the old foundry in Oregon, Illinois.
“After the fire, it’s exciting to see this empty lot being used, “ Karly said.
The lot, located next to the new foundry, wasn’t empty for long. Immediately, students suited up in safety gear and unpacked equipment for the pour.
“This event has been a great opportunity for students to visit the foundry and understand about the process,” she said.
With sledgehammers in hand, students broke up recycled heating furnaces, sinks, radiators and bathtubs. Students shaped sand molds and melted the recycled iron into those molds.
Carolyn Ottmers, SAIC foundry supervisor, coordinated with Karly to create what they hope to be an annual event. Carolyn, along with Gabriel Akagawa, Assistant Adjunct Professor, and foundry manager Dan Matheson, gave students the opportunity to learn about iron. Stressing the need for safety as iron chunks flew through the air, Gabriel showed students how to break up the masses of metal. Dan oversaw students as they set up the furnaces that would later melt those pieces of metal.
Far from towering skyscrapers in the rural landscape west of Chicago, flames and sparks flew freely from the furnaces. Students and faculty say their road trip to create artwork ignited excitement in the craft. Currently SAIC offers bronze and aluminum casting, so if you want cast iron, plan on leaving the confines of the city limits.
The iron casting process is labor intensive. And the payoff is that you become part of a community through the process. Nobody can pour molten iron alone. Everyone leaves with a shared experience.
That allure brings experienced students back for more, as it has for 20 years under Carolyn’s direction. Spring 2010 will mark that two-decade anniversary of Carolyn’s annual iron pour at Crabtree Farm, where schools from the area including Grand Valley State University will join SAIC in the art of casting metal. It’s a celebration that marks the transition of pouring industrial metal into what it has become: art.