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Stoking the Fire 5



Metal heads: (from l-r) Anna Olsen, Rachel Cisler and Caitlin Leu, all sculpture students at UW Oshkosh, preparing for the community iron pour demonstration. Photo credit: Shawn McAfee/UW Oshkosh Learning Technologies.

A Metal Pour Convert

by Grace Lim
COLS Special Reports Producer

I came. I saw. I poured. 

A little background: At a December bronze pour, I half-jokingly asked Teresa Lind, the sculpture instructor, if I could participate in a future pour.

She smiled broadly. "Sure."

Shawn McAfee, who took the still photos at the bronze pour, shook her head. "Don't tell her that," she warned.

Excited, I proclaimed, "I want to be the pour master!"

Teresa laughed.

Fast-forward to April 9, 2011 to the community iron pour which was held outside without the safety rigs of the University's foundry. A couple of hours before the actual pour, Teresa and her students heated up the furnace by stuffing it with coke, a type of coal that burns hotter than regular coal.


Starting the Fire: UW Oshkosh art instructor Teresa Lind stuffs the furnace with coke, a substance that burns hotter than regular coal. Photo by Grace Lim/COLS Special Reports.

I and about 50 spectators gathered outside the pour area, which was marked off with bright yellow DO NOT CROSS tape. We watched the students put on their safety gear -- heavy leather foundry jackets, fireproof gloves, leather boots and helmets with long plastic visors.

Teresa saw me on the sidelines. "Are you going to pour?" she asked, with a grin.

"You're kidding, right?"

She wasn't.

For an outside pour, students had to heat up the crucible, the container that holds the molten metal, with a torch. Then two people hoist the ladle -- a long metal shank with the pre-heated crucible attached to it at its center. Then they carry the ladle with the crucible to the furnace and place it under the tap hole near the bottom of the furnace. Another student then knocks out the plug, allowing the liquid metal to gush out. The students holding the ladle have to be on the ready to catch the molten metal which is upwards 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

I had to get the safety gear on and listen to pour floor supervisor Kelley Gierach's safety talk, which boiled down to DON'T DROP THE CRUCIBLE! YOU'LL HURT PEOPLE! Kelley was a terrific overseer of the pour and the teams. She told me that I was to help carry the ladle, using the "dead end," which has one handle.

Outside Pour

Making art: UW Oshkosh journalism instructor Grace Lim (in blue helmet) lends a hand in the community iron pour. Photo credit: Shawn McAfee/UW Oshkosh Learning Technologies.

My pour partner, UWO alumna Amanda Beard, will dictate the pour from the "live end," which has two handles. I'm basically the brawn. Amanda is the brawn AND the brain. Kelley cautioned me to refrain from any delusions of grandeur of being a hero pourer. She said if at any time I felt I was going to drop the crucible, I have to yell, "Spot!," at which time, my spotters will step in. 

In my world of journalism, if I drop my equipment, I may break my recorder, maybe, my camera. In their world, if I drop the equipment, we may lose our feet or more.

My exuberance was tempered by her stark warnings.

Before I could get my turn to pour, I was told that my Asics runnning shoes wouldn't cut muster on the pour floor. One spectator, Drew Bode, a 2-D art major, offered his leather boots for my cause. Alas, his shoes also didn't pass the pour floor test. Undeterred, I scoured the footwear of the other spectators. Right before I gave up my dream of being a master pourer, I came across Tom Zaborski's boots. Before I could ask if I could look at them, he said with a slight drawl, "They'll do. I work in a foundry."

The Neenah, Wis., man was right. His boots did perfectly. 

My part of the pour lasted only 5 minutes but felt a lot longer; my arms shook from exhaustion. Pouring metal is hard and exhilarating. I told Teresa after the pour that I will forever look at metal sculptures with new eyes.

And the people who make such wondrous objects? As Shawn, a 2-D artist and graphic designer, said: "They are the cowboys of art."



(Note: My husband John Beam, a math professor at UW Oshkosh shot the video. The voices you hear in the video belong to him and other spectators at the pour. In the video, I am wearing the blue helmet. My pour partner Amanda Beard, a 2009 alumna of UW Oshkosh, wore a green helmet. Kelley Gierach, the pour floor supervisor, wore a blue helmet. Teresa Lind, who was at my side the entire pour, wore a gray helmet. Anna Olson, the skimmer, who got rid of the impurities that floated to the top of the liquid metal, wore a green helmet.)


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