Fifth annual Iron Art Festival pours on the fun, experiential learning and community outreach
David Lobdell, left, a professor of fine arts at New Mexico Highlands University, shows a CU Denver his chemical patination technique during a class last week. Lobdell was guest artist at this year’s fifth annual Iron Art Festival and iron pour. Photo by Matt Kaskavitch. Photos below by Chris Casey and Matt Kaskavitch.
By Chris Casey | University Communications
DENVER—Before fields turn ablaze with poppies and daffodils, a somewhat different rite of spring fills the air outside the Arts Building. This one is all about heat: flying sparks, glowing embers and flowing iron.
A warm early spring evening greeted this year’s live iron pour, which was part of the fifth annual Iron Art Festival put on by sculpture students, alumni and faculty in the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Arts and Media. A large crowd gathered around the courtyard at dusk on Friday to watch about 35 artists melt iron in cupolas then pour the metal upon bonded sand molds to create low-relief iron casts.
Part of the fun is how the Rian Kerrane, associate professor and head of the sculpture program, each year brings in a guest artist to take part in the pour as well as teach a class about his or her specialty. This year’s guest was David Lobdell, professor of fine arts at New Mexico Highlands University. Lobdell has experimented with casting and chemical patination, a way to color metal, for many years.
“We’ve had a variety of artists come in and they build various pieces of equipment with us, or teach us a specialty,” Kerrane said. “Our lever, which pours the metal from 8 feet in the air into tall molds, came to use from Matt Toole from the Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design.”
CU Denver’s cast iron program began in 2005 when Kerrane’s students worked with guest artist Hopi Breton to build the program’s first cupola, which is a furnace for melting iron. There are now two cupolas, a large studio for sculpture and plenty of “leathers” — protective clothing for working around iron heated to 2,700 degrees — hanging in the workspace.
“A lot of our students come back for the iron pour; they have their own sets of leathers,” Kerrane said. “So the alumni come, work with our current students, and it has really grown as something to look forward to in the spring.”
The event, accompanied by a CU Denver student band performing an eerie background wall of sound, gets started with artists pouring metal onto open-face bonded sand molds made by members of the community. Then, as more iron scraps are fed into the two cupolas, and the suns dips below the foothills, the leather-coat and helmet-wearing crew moves onto the main show: using the tall lever to pour molten iron upon the taller molds. That’s when a burst of fire is followed by a shower of sparks, and finally just the tower mold being licked by flames.
Kerrane said her iron casting students own the Iron Art Festival. “They are able to take charge of it and be professional,” she said. “They are making their own artwork, but they’re also engaging with the public and the community and getting respect for that.”
Lobdell said he’s enjoyed getting to know CU Denver students and alumni over the years. He and Kerrane are members of the Western Cast Iron Alliance, which holds iron casting events across the West. “We’re always bringing new people to this medium,” he said. “We’re kind of spreading the poison.”
Kerrane said her students will also run an iron pour at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in October. In conjunction, the center will host an invitational curated show, “Fired,” featuring iron sculpture.
“These events instill a sense of confidence and pride in what the students are doing,” Kerrane said. “We take what we do in the classroom and make it public. It just has to be shared.”
Published: March 23, 2015