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CU Sculpture Club does iron pour

The iron pour took place over the course of an afternoon.
Photo: John Mazzetta · The Sentry

A hands-on training for arts students

Tucked in a corner, past the bridge that connects the Arts Building and West Classroom, orange molten iron was flowing from a three-legged industrial furnace that was standing on a bed of sand, surrounded by art majors, alumni, and professors dressed in dull yellow protective clothing. 

On Friday, April 12, the sculpture club gathered for a community iron pour, showing that an art technique as meticulous as this one requires many moving parts to complete it. In a thorough lesson, Rian Kerrane, a CU Denver professor in the Department of Visual Arts, explained how to ensure everyone’s safety when handling materials at extreme heat, pointing to the areas where buckets of water would be located should there be an accident. “Always look out for each other,” Kerrane said. 

Although serious for most of her talk, including for her emphasis on communication, she did add some humor by saying that communication could be done visually if other participants couldn’t hear them over the whirring of the furnace by putting up the middle finger. Before completing her directions, Keranne reminded students, “Make sure you’re learning, that’s why we’re here today.”

The participants broke away from their huddle and went to their designated rotations. Four artists managed the furnace, where one lifted the lid, two threw in the chips of iron, and the last prodded the iron with a stick before the lid was closed once again. Charred pieces of the industrial quartz bags they also threw into the furnace swirled in the air like a tornado. 

Others heated the crucibles (the pot that would hold the molten iron to pour into the molds), spread the sand, leveled the molds, gathered the bits of collected iron that clanged on the pavement, and even gave onlookers a tour of a small gallery in the Arts Building where Lynx sculptures were displayed.

Sarah Harling, another advisor of the project who teaches technical welding at Emily Griffith High School, floated between locations, helping students where it was needed. “There’s lots of functions of [the industrial furnace], but artists have owned it, showing it’s more dynamic,” Harling said. “We’re not pouring car parts; we’re pouring things that matter to the students.”

The passion of the professors was matched by the students. Dressed in a protective jacket that had his name on the back, Scottie Burgess, a CU Denver alumnus said, “Basically, we’re all artists, sculptors. Iron takes a community to cast together.” 

A fellow sculptor dressed in a cap with yellow flames and blue dragons, Jenny Nagashima, a junior arts major, enthusiastically explained the process, including collecting the iron, filling the crucible, and pouring the iron into the molds. “We’re turning things that people have thrown away, trash, into something beautiful,” Nagashima said with a smile.

The iron pour extended beyond just the artists, as supportive parents and onlookers who were captivated by the sight of the art project gathered around the yellow barricades and caution tape, waiting for the scene of liquid iron to be molded into letters, suitcases, and household irons. Once the iron was ready to be poured and it spilled out of the furnace into the crucible, cheers filled the quad as hours of preparation had turned into a successful art project.

The sense of community was still apparent as Kerrane directed two students holding the bars attached to the crucible to the different molds. Other students followed closely with shovels for the sand and handles for the iron.

The preparation that took over two hours gave the hard-working artists many transformations of the iron. Now all they could do was wait until their molds were ready.

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