Hot, Hot, Hot! Preparing for the Community Collaboration Hot Metal Pour

A mother and daughter work on their scratch mold at Saturday's workshop.

A mother and daughter work on their scratch mold at Saturday’s workshop.

The time has come again for our annual Community Collaboration Hot Metal Pour, and that means things at Franconia are about to get hot, hot, hot! Each year we invite artists from around the country to stay at the park and guide the community through the exciting process of working with molten iron, from scratching a design into a sand mold to taking home your own unique work of art. This year the pour will be run by artists Tamsie Ringler, Araan Schmidt and Holly Kelly, who collectively have over 50 years experience working with hot metal. Holly, who last year worked the event as a Hot Metal Intern, sat down with me to talk about the Franconia pour, her own artwork, and what to expect when working with such a lively material.

Franconia: Hi Holly! We are really excited to have you back at park, this time helping lead the pour. To begin, can you walk us through the work that goes into making a cast iron object, tell us a bit about the process?

HK: Well you start with a pattern, an artist will make a pattern – from wood, foam, clay, anything really – and then you take a mold off of the pattern using a resin-bonded sand.

And by pattern you just mean an object?

Hot Metal Interns pack and prep sand molds for the big day.

Hot Metal Interns pack and prep sand molds for the big day.

Yeah a pattern, an object, the original piece to be cast, in whatever material. And you make a mold of it. We use a two-part mixture, which means there is the resin and the catalyst, which is the hardener. We mix the resin and the catalyst with sand and let it harden on top of the patterns. That will then pull off a hard-form negative from the positive object. Then you will take apart the two halves of the mold and remove the original pattern from the inside, so you have two halves of a negative object. Then you carve what are called gates and sprues into the top of the piece, and those will be how the metal flows into and out of the piece, the pathway through which the metal gets to the mold. Once everything on the inside is carved and ready to go you will core wash the inside of the mold using graphite and denatured alcohol. This lets the iron slip through the mold faster, and grasp the pattern better. When you have finished work on the inside you can close up the pattern, put the two halves back together, so now there is a negative space inside of this block of sand. Then you band or bolt it together so it’s secure.

And then the fun begins.

Molds being filled at last year's pour.

Molds being filled at last year’s pour.

Yes, then it is time to pour. But to get ready for the pour we need to break iron – radiators, bathtubs, sinks, anything we can find. We have to break it into small enough pieces to melt in the cupolas, which are the furnaces. And the way we melt iron is with coke, refined charcoal. That’s how we heat it, it’s the fuel source. So when everything is all set up, inside the furnace there are really big chunks of coke, maybe a couple of feet of big chunks, and then we stick a propane torch inside the furnace to heat up the coke that’s in there, and once the coke is hot it will stay hot. There’s a wind belt on the furnace and we blow air into the furnace in a circular motion and that keeps it hot as we are running the pour.

So this is definitely a group effort.

Definitely, a lot of the people who cast iron are very drawn to the process– it’s long and laborious, and a community really builds up around it. Because there’s no way you could easily do this by yourself, and the reason why we all like it is because of that community, that team that you need to run the furnace and pour all these giant molds. And we all travel to different cities and states and countries just to go pour iron.  

And what part of this process will the community members get to take part in? What should they expect from the event?

A community member admires finished products from last year's pour.

A community member admires finished products from last year’s pour.

Right now we are making the scratch blocks.  They are hardened, resin-bonded sand in the shapes of squares and circles. These are open-faced molds, so we just pour right on top of them. The community members will be able to come in and carve their own designs into these sand molds, and then we take them back and pour iron into them, clean them up and hand them back a finished piece! And they get to see the whole process of the melting and pouring.  

What is your experience with casting metal? How did you first discover it?

I took a foundry class at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where I graduated from two years ago. I was attracted to the history of the material, how it was used to make objects like irons and stoves, and then the first time I held a ladle that was it, the molten metal was mesmerizing. Since then I have been working at an art foundry in Chelsea, Massachusetts, we fabricate large-scale figures and sculptures. We just did an Edgar Allan Poe sculpture that was featured in the New York Times.

What is your favorite part of the pour, and what made you want to come back to Franconia to participate in it again?

I really enjoy the pattern-making part of the process, and figuring out how to take a mold off of different patterns, the problem solving side of it. I came back because it’s a good opportunity to spend lot of time on my own work, it’s hard to do it when I’m working at home on my own.  

And what are you planning on making here this year for the Resident Artist Hot Metal Pour?

Holly knits a pattern that will then be cast in iron at the Resident Artist Hot Metal Pour on August 8.

Holly knits a pattern that will then be cast in iron at the Resident Artist Hot Metal Pour on August 8.

I don’t want to make any promises, but I am hoping to knit something that will be cast in iron during the pour. I am trying to play around with texture, a lot of my previous pieces have been very smooth and flat and carved out of wood, so I’m trying to do something a little different.  

Why should someone come to the Franconia Hot Metal Pour, as either a participant or a spectator?

It’s really beautiful to see when the iron comes out of the furnace, when it comes out of the ladle.  It’s a stream of golden liquid and you can’t help but look at it. It also gets lightning strikes across the top when it’s laying flat. This event is cool because a lot of local artists are participating, and it’s an opportunity for the public to see how it’s all made, sand molds will be done and patterns will be on display so they can see the whole process start to finish.

Thanks Holly! We look forward to seeing your finished piece.

Found-object percussion band Savage Aural Hotbed performing at last year's pour.

Found-object percussion band Savage Aural Hotbed performing at last year’s pour.

If all this talk of molten metal is piquing your interest, there is still time to get involved! More scratch mold workshops are being held today from 4pm to 8pm and on August 1st from 10am to 3pm. This is where you carve the design that will later be filled with molten iron. (If you are still curious about what actually goes into making a scratch mold, check out this video from last year’s workshop). Workshops are open to all ages, and the blocks cost $30, $45, or $75, depending on their size. Make your reservation today by visiting our website, but hurry!  Molds are selling out fast.  The actual pour will be happening on August 1st from 10am to 8pm, with found-object percussion band Savage Aural Hotbed performing throughout the day. Whether you have never seen an iron pour or are a seasoned expert like Holly, it is always an event to remember. Also mark your calendar for the Resident Artist Hot Metal Pour on August 8th, where you can bring a picnic and spend the day watching as Holly and the other artists cast their own large-scale iron sculptures using over 8,000 pounds of molten metal. We have a great roster of artists participating this year, view their work by clicking on the names below, and be sure to check back here for more profiles and interviews!

2015 Hot Metal Artists

Megan Daus (MN)

Christopher Groth (MN)

Patrick Healy (NY)

Okay Ikenegbu (Nigeria)

Holly Kelly (MA)

Greg Loring (OH)

Rosemarie Oakman (NY)

Tamsie Ringler (MN)

Araan Schmidt (CO)

Amber White (MN)

2015 Hot Metal Interns

Jordan Krutsch (NC)

Michelle Kwiecien (NY)

Matthew Mroz (NY)

Carl Orstad (MN)


This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the East Central Regional Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.


One comment

  1. […] Last week we hosted the Community Collaboration Hot Metal Pour, which you can read more about here, and yesterday the furnaces were ablaze yet again for the Resident Artists Hot Metal Pour, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: