Liquid Metal

a heated, chaotic frenzy. However, iron casting is a complex process, requiring well-choreographed teamwork and precise movements within a short time frame.

From radiators to masterpieces
Team members pour bits of donated and pulverized iron radiators into the cupolette, a giant cauldron-like furnace that emits flames out the top.
Fueled by the residue from coal or petroleum called coke, the cupolette heats the radiator bits to 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature at which iron can melt. Up to 300 pounds of iron are melted every 20 minutes, said Patrick Wilson, who works in the foundry.
When the iron is hot enough to be poured, a team member begins jabbing a small plug called a bot at the bottom of the cupolette. Once the bot is jabbed out of the way, hot orange liquid iron streams out into a container called a bull ladle, which is so heavy it is suspended from a conveyor belt.
A team member immediately begins scraping slag — impurities such as dirt and paint from the radiators — off the top of the iron with a rake-like tool called a skimmer.
The team then moves the ladle about the room, carefully pouring its contents into the various molds on the floor. They must hurry, because after about two minutes, the molten iron begins to cool and eventually becomes too brittle to use.
The molds, made of a wax, resin and silicon sand-based concoction, are created throughout the semester by students. The wax is poured into the silicon sand and is then removed, revealing a hard, sand-like block with empty space where the wax once was.
After iron fills the empty space, the molds are cooled and broken open, revealing the final products.
Students broke open a wide variety of molds, including small figures and replicated body parts.
“Table legs, a tic-tac-toe board … I even saw a volleyball,” said Wilson.
University senior Jocelyn Thoemke created several figures Friday that she will use in a larger piece. She plans to have the figures — women with no legs and no faces — sitting on the floor and looking up at a screen. Above the screen, Thoemke said she will place larger figures on swings and will project images of herself onto the screen.
Thoemke said the figures “represent negative parts of my psyche. I have nightmares about not having legs and not being able to talk,” she explained.
Thoemke’s figures were just a small part of the nearly 1.5 tons of iron melted Friday.
Because melting iron is such an extensive process, students only do so once a semester. They cast other metals, such as aluminum and bronze, earlier in the class.

A new foundry?
Although Dashke said the foundry was a decent facility overall, there are some deficiencies, primarily the lack of properly functioning ventilation. Many team members donned air-filtration devices on their faces during the Iron Pour.
The facility also does not have a bathroom nearby, and students are using equipment more than two decades old. Like other studios and workspaces in the Art Building, students and faculty members have patched together the foundry piece by piece, sometimes building their own equipment.
Dashke said a new facility actually designed for metal working would be a major improvement to the “empty concrete shell” provided many years ago.
“It would be nice to have something made from the beginning, with our intentions in mind,” he said.
However, plans for a new art building don’t seem to be getting past the door of the state House of Representatives, whose members have recommended only $2 million of the $21 million in state funds needed for the project.
Gov. Ventura’s bonding-bill proposal does not include any funds for a new art building.
The plans for the new art building would replace the current facility with a new building near the Rarig Center and Barbara Barker Center for Dance, forming the West Bank Arts Quarter.
Max Rust covers the community and welcomes comments at [email protected]