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Arts & Culture

Striking Art While the Iron Is Hot

Twice-Annual Event Invites Community to Take Part in Metal Pouring

By Sala Levin ’10

student pours molten iron

Ty Boland-Reeves '23 cranks the wheel to tip out a bucket of molten iron during a once-a-semester "iron pour," when students in art Professor John Ruppert’s metal-casting sculpture course create their own artworks.

Photos by Madison Wells-James ’23

With its manually operated crane, stacks of concrete blocks and piles of scrap metal, the fenced area behind the Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building could be mistaken for a construction site on campus. It’s actually the Sculpture Yard, home to the equipment for art Professor John Ruppert’s metal-casting sculpture course.

One day each semester, Ruppert invites local artists to join his students in liquifying iron to fill the molds they’ve created. Fifteen people operate the old-fashioned furnace, with some Terps up top funneling in iron and coke, a refined coal that heats the iron to nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Nov. 5 iron pour, as it’s known, drew some 25 people to take part in and watch the sweaty, labor-intensive process.

“You can only be up there for, like, maybe 20 minutes, and then you have to step down and get some water,” said Theodore Jonas ’23.

After the molten metal pours from the bottom well, artists have about 30 minutes to work with it before it starts to set. Their molds are made of resin-bonded sand, which firms up to a sandstone-like texture.

In an industrial and artistic process at once ancient and complex, the students “have to build a 3D puzzle around a pattern, then take the puzzle apart, take the pattern out, put the puzzle back together, and fill the void with metal,” said Ruppert, who has taught the class since 1987.

Here, Maryland Today gets into the flow of the iron pour.

area behind the Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building

The Sculpture Yard behind the Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building that houses the furnace

professor talks to class

Professor John Ruppert discusses the process with students.

student operates furnace

Clad in protective gear, a visitor from the community charges the furnace with coke and iron.

student picks up mold

Alyssa Imes M.F.A. '22 sets molds to be poured.

students work with iron

Ruppert skims the metal, while Ishan Manish works the crane and Margaret Josephine Ruane works the ladle.

A stream of iron is poured into a trench

The extra metal is poured out to be remelted so that it doesn't chill in the ladle.

iron sculpture

Ty Boland-Reeves '23 created the base of this piece. "It's like a volcano," he said of the iron pour. "The intensity and the energy is all really exciting."

iron sculpture inspired by headphones

Theodore Jonas '23 made this piece inspired by headphones. "The idea was to take an everyday object and ... get away from what it symbolically represents."

Schools & Departments:

College of Arts and Humanities

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