HAYS, Kan. -- Molten iron as performance art will be the
star of the four days of the Western Cast Iron Art Conference from May 23 to
May 26, hosted by Fort Hays State University's Department of Art and Design.
The public is invited to attend and watch as three furnaces
work their fiery magic at the bonfire site just east of the Robbins Center.
Molten iron will be poured into such things as a reconstructed tree and a house
made of ears of corn.
"The art is in the performance rather than in the
resulting objects," said Toby Flores, associate professor of art and
design at FHSU. "The artifacts may have some value as a relic of the
performance, but the real art is in the show."
Another day, Friday, will be spent building an iron smelter,
and, on Saturday, five smelters -- and grandstands for the public -- will be
set up on a closed-off North Campus Drive for a production pour for the
professional and student participants who registered and paid to take part in
the conference's workshops and other activities.
Thursday will feature three receptions at three locations for
an exhibit of sculpture, mostly iron. "This just illustrates the breadth
of the whole process of making and casting iron," said Lee Powers, chair
of the Department of Art and Design at FHSU.
Attracting artists and students from all over the country,
the conference serves as a way to educate, demonstrate and exhibit cast iron
art. The many conference's showcases include a variety of workshops, panel
discussions, and performances for the public. Previous conferences have been
held in Denver, Colo., and Missoula, Mont.
The Western Cast Iron Art Conference is a
biennial event organized by the Western Cast Iron Art Alliance, a non-profit
organization founded by a core group of members, all from western states, who
are deeply rooted in the art of iron casting. Every founding member is employed
at a university or community college and is intimately invested in art
"It is our main goal to make sure that we
are providing an educational experience for the students and community members,"
said Flores. “The conference is a great way to showcase talent and teach at the
The Hays conference is shaping up to be the biggest in the
history of the alliance, said Flores. Noted artists are coming from all corners
of the country, including Mary Neubauer, Arizona State University, Phoenix;
Coral Lambert, Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y.; Mike Feeney, San Francisco;
Andrew Marsh, Kentucky; Matt Wicker, New York; John Hachmeister, the University
of Kansas; and Tom Gipe, Illinois.
The keynote speaker is Daniel Hunt, a professor of sculpture
at Kansas State University. Hunt's address begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, in
FHSU's Robbins Center.
Wayne Proratz, a professor of sculpture and foundry at the
University of Minnesota, will lead the discussion and demonstration on the
construction and operation of the furnace, a brick Tatara furnace, on Friday,
May 25, in the foundry yard at Rarick Hall.
A demonstration of the ancient Japanese smelting process, from
building the furnace to using it, will be all day Friday, beginning at 8 a.m.
The "bloom" -- the iron produced -- will be handed off to blacksmiths
Walter Ware, Tom Fox and Jillian Thompson and will be forged into a usable
Perhaps the most hands-on experiences for the participants
at the conference are the workshops. Each will be held at the Rarick Hall foundry.
Workshops are open to seasoned professionals and first-time sculptors alike.
FHSU students will provide assistance as participants create their own original
“It is a great way for the students to use their
skills and to teach others, which they love to do,” Flores said.
In addition to the workshops, panel discussions will
be hosted by some of the biggest names in iron casting, and the largely
anticipated performance pour, which will take place on Friday, May 25.
"We have some really cool people coming to
participate in our panels, and I am really excited for them to see what Fort
Hays State is all about," said Flores.
The conference promotes the appreciation of the
cast iron medium and inspires art lovers everywhere to educate themselves on a
process of sculpting that has been around for hundreds of years. Other conferences
celebrate cast iron, but the Western Cast Iron Art Conference is the only
avenue that focuses solely on Western cast iron practices.
For a complete list of panels, workshops, and
performances visit www.wciaa.org. For more
information, contact the Department of Art and Design at 785-628-4247.