Visual Arts

UK sculptors make iron pour a family event

The University of Kentucky's annual iron pour in Lexington on Saturday, November 2, 2013. Photo by Mark Ashley
The University of Kentucky's annual iron pour in Lexington on Saturday, November 2, 2013. Photo by Mark Ashley Herald-Leader

As sparks started to fly from the cupola behind the University of Kentucky's Reynolds Building, a little boy shouted, "It's happening!"

A few minutes later, it did happen: two assistants brought a large ladle up to the spout at the bottom of the cupola, a cylindrical furnace where iron was melted. A third person poked open the hole at the top of the spout, and a stream of orange and yellow light flowed out, sparks bouncing out in all directions, molten metal sloshing over the sides of the ladle.

And with that, the UK Sculpture iron pour has been happening at the University of Kentucky for 20 years.

There are other times during the year when visual arts students and faculty fire up the furnace to about 3,000 degrees to melt down iron so they can pour it into molds and make new artwork. But the first Saturday in November is when the department invites the public and its friends in to see it happen.

"We want to have a big to-do," sculpture professor Garry Bibbs said, "a real Lexington community event."

Saturday's event, the culmination of a week-long celebration of sculpture at UK, was also attended and worked by sculptors from around the region, a number of whom had welcomed UK artists onto their campuses.

"It's the camaraderie," said Bryan Winfred Massey, Sr., a professor of art at the University of Central Arkansas, who arrived with a duffle bag full of safety gear, ready to work. "I'll see people here I haven't seen in a year. The sculpture community is a really small family."

If that's the case, Isaac Sandoval was serving as its cook. Adjacent to the pouring site, he and his girlfriend, Shawna Wangseng, set up the giant 300-pound skillet he made last year at the Western Cast Iron Conference in Hays, Kan., and cooked up some chicken tortilla soup for everyone in attendance.

"My family is in the restaurant business, and some friends said, you need to make the world's largest skillet," said Sandoval, of Las Vegas, N.M. "Well, the world's largest skillet is actually 17 feet wide, so we weren't doing that."

But he said the oversized cookware, complete with a custom-made handle cushion and large spatula, have been fun to take to iron pours and socialize over. He even let some of the kids in attendance help make the soup, which he cooked from his father's recipe.

Other kids at the event got to make scratch plates, which were sand molds into which they could carve designs that would then be poured during the iron pour.

There was time to eat and create as the event ran quite a bit later than planned.

Bibbs said that was in part because of the complex logistics of relocating the pour to a lot behind the Reynolds Building after UK health and safety officials raised concerns about the former location in an enclosed area behind Reynolds that made some of the hazards of the pour more immediate. Those concerns forced the cancellation of last year's pour, and while Bibbs said the changes did make things a bit more complicated, he also said it was much better as an event because a larger audience could have a better view and there was more room for activities and sales.

"I love it when people come out and see what we do," said Robert Nolan III, vice-president of SCRAP, the UK student sculpture club.

This is, after all, a family that wants to grow.

"It's fun watching first timers open the mold to see how their piece came out," said Cornelius Hugo, a student from Kansas State University. "If it turns out well, you can see they're hooked. It's the idea of seeing liquid metal, something most people see as solid, and a few hours later, it becomes the realization of an idea."

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