Visitors, students from far and wide attend Western Cast Iron Art Conference at FHSU

05/24/12 mcw

HAYS, Kan. -- Art students from around the country are flocking to the Fort Hays State University campus for the Western Cast Iron Art Conference this weekend. This is the fourth conference of the Western Cast Iron Art Alliance and the first at FHSU.

The conferences are always hosted by a school, said Ashley Carlisle, a WCIAA board member from Laramie, Wyo. The conferences are held every two years to teach people new techniques and spread knowledge on working with iron.

"They come from all over," said Carlisle. "They know the crew and just come to make art."

Toby Flores, associate professor of art and design at FHSU and site coordinator for the conference, said the experience of preparing for the event has been both overwhelming and exciting. He credits his students and Department of Art and Design faculty for helping him organize the conference.

Tina Chavera, Jasmine Colgan and Estrella Fox, students from the University of Colorado, Denver, said they are looking forward to meeting other artists and participating in the workshops. Chavera said the mention of "free iron" was a motivating factor for her. Witnessing an actual iron pour is another point of interest for the women.

"This is the first metal class for some of us," said Colgan.

Hayley Carpenter and Angelina Mazzanti from the University of Mississippi, Oxford, are looking forward to learning new pouring processes. They also pointed out that a student from FHSU is attending graduate school at the University of Mississippi, and they are excited at the prospect of meeting her. Mazzanti said she is excited for the networking opportunities and meeting people who love doing the same thing.

The ladies said they drove to Kansas and plan to extend their journey further west.

"We kind of turned it into a road trip," said Carpenter. "We're headed to Colorado after this."

New Mexico Highlands, Las Vegas, student Fred Turner said he is inspired by the dynamics of FHSU's art department and looking forward to "just participating" in the conference. Turner is especially anticipating the large-mold iron pour, as it will be the largest he has attended.

Rose Marie Oakman of Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y., said her interest in metal casting prompted her to attend. She is looking forward to observing the performances and the student pour.

Both professional and student artists will have works on display at various locations for the duration of the conference. Kelly Ludeking is one of several professional artists whose works will be on display in the Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art in Rarick Hall. Ludeking began working with iron in 1994 and has been creating iron art ever since. He has numerous friends involved in the conference and has even cast (iron) with several of them, specifically Lopes.

Ludeking also has his own business, Ironhead Sculptural Services, which uses a portable foundry. He travels to different conferences, facilitates pours and demonstrates what students can do with their craft after college. Unless students remain affiliated with the school they attended, continuing with iron casting can become a financial burden.

Ludeking said he enjoys observing new techniques and styles. He also uses conferences such as these to keep up with his friends and what they have done with their craft.

"You can learn something new at all of the conferences," said Ludeking.

"Cast Illuminations," Ludeking's largest work on display in Moss-Thorns, is an iron light fixture created as part of a collection for a woman in Minneapolis. She paid for 10, but only ended up taking one. He created the fixtures by duct-taping tulip light globes to bowls of a certain size for a mold. He then rolled the mold to distribute the iron instead of allowing it to settle, which would create a solid piece. Ludeking has dubbed his technique "no core hollow casting."

Ludeking's works are not strictly from cast iron. Other pieces on display incorporate blown glass into cast aluminum and iron texturized by seed pods and bubble wrap encasing blown glass works. He works with glassblowers in Chicago to obtain glass pieces to complement his metal works. His distinctive pieces result from constantly trying new techniques.

This weekend's conference will consist of several events open to the public as well. Thursday night, a reception featuring student work will be hosted by the Hays Public Library, and works will be on display at the Hays Arts Council building and the Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art in Rarick Hall. All three receptions start at 7 p.m. and end at 9 p.m.

Also open to the public are two iron pours, one Friday evening, beginning about 7 p.m. at the Robbins Center, and another Saturday, beginning about noon, and a demonstration of the ancient Japanese iron smelting process known as tatara on Friday.

North Campus Drive has been closed off from Park Street to Campus Drive and portable bleachers set up for the various demonstrations in and around the Rarick Hall foundry yard.

The Western Alliance was established in 2004-2005, and the first conference was presented in 2006. Since that time, locations of the bi-annual conference were Denver, Colo., Missoula, Mont., and Las Vegas, N.M.

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