Sparks Fly During the Iron Pour

By Sarah Bunch

Transcript Correspondent

Sparks flew on Friday as a 400-pound ladle filled with molten iron was poured into the awaiting molds created by 3-D design and sculpture students at Ohio Wesleyan.

OWU art professor John Quick hosts an iron pour in Haycock Hall every semester. All students enrolled in 3-D design and sculpture participated as did a few alumni.

“I begin planning this event over a month in advance,” Quick said, “making my artwork and directing all activities in sculpture prior to the pour. The day of the pour I set up the furnace and all the associated equipment.

“During the pour, I direct all activity at and around the furnace, opening the spout (‘tapping out’) for every ladle-full of iron, and working at the furnace, making sure that it operates correctly.”

Classes went through a slightly different process and created different types of molds for the event based on the course.

“Students in sculpture made ceramic shell molds from wax sculptures and also resin-bonded sand molds,” Quick said. “The 3-D design students make molds by carving negative space in bonded sand blocks. We call these scratch block molds. All of the work was successfully cast.”

Because 3-D design is a prerequisite for sculpture, all the students enrolled in the upper level course have already participated in one iron pour.For most of the students enrolled in 3-D design, it was a new experience.

Sophomore fine arts major and 3-D design student Mukami Mboche said, “I really enjoyed watching the iron get poured. The color of the iron was really cool and vibrant.”

Design students arrived about 1 p.m. to begin setting up materials such as the molds and the charges, which are the buckets of iron being put into the furnace. Students enrolled in sculpture, however, had a much different experience. For Willow Smart, a junior art education major, it was her second time participating in an iron pour at OWU.

“I had to get up at 6 in the morning,” she said. “I was there by 7:30. Me and the rest of the sculpture and 3-D students just helped prepare with John.”

Alumni also helped by “pulling the cupola furnace outside and setting up bots, which are plugs basically for the furnace to stop the iron from coming out when there’s time between the iron pour,” Smart said. Students and alumni broke the iron for melting and got the molds ready.

The pour started at 1 p.m. and was open to the public. All the molds were full and cooling by 3 p.m. Cleanup lasted until 6:30 p.m.

The OWU Iron Pour is the result of John Quick’s independent research on cupola furnaces. Quick described several conferences that eventually led to his fascination with the process and the idea of building his own furnace.

“I have been organizing and leading iron pours at OWU every semester since 1998, that is, for twenty-one years,” Quick said. “Prior to that time, I had been operating a modest bronze foundry at OWU since 1989.”

Students fired up for OWU iron pour

Ohio Wesleyan University continues to offer unrivaled opportunities as being one of three schools in Ohio that bring together students and alumni for its biannual cast iron pour.

The cast iron event is the result of weeks of preparation and camaraderie between current OWU students, alumni and experienced metal-smiths.

OWU sculpture professor Jon Quick heads the iron pour and has been working on it’s development since its inception.

“The process is fascinating, there’s always more information you can learn about it and there’s a lot you can get from other schools when you go to different places and conferences. The body of information is just so immense, it’s always an adventure,” Quick said.

For both sculpture and 3D classes, the better part of a semester is spent preparing for the pour. Students are taught the process of mold making whether it be with sand or ceramic shell.

The process of making a mold requires an object or form to occupy a space in the mold before it’s coated in sand or ceramic shell. In the case of sand molds, once the sand hardens it’s split in two and the form in the middle is taken out leaving a negative space in the shape of the object.

The mold is put back together before cast iron is poured into the top, and after a short drying period, broken into two again to reveal the iron casting in the center.

The students that created molds are involved in every aspect of the process so as to experience creating your piece from start to finish.

The body of work casted at the pour not only includes the work of students, but the work of graduates and professors as well.

After a six hour preparation period, the fuel and iron is added to the top of the furnace to begin the heating process. Once the furnace is up to temperature, pieces of iron and additional fuel are gradually added through the top. As the iron melts, it collects around a tap at the bottom of the furnace. When enough iron is melted, the tap is opened and the molten iron flows into a ladle to be poured into molds.

Westin Short, a 2019 OWU alum has joined the group of graduates who venture back to Haycock Hall to take part in the time honored tradition. As a part of the pour crew, Short handles the iron directly and is tasked with filling the molds.

“You get to control the iron, you are the one making the art. The artists themselves make the molds and create the form, but the one who pours the mold is actually the one who puts in the substance and creates the art itself, we put the actual being in the body of it,” Short said.

The culmination of time and effort put into each individual piece of art as well as the prep for this semester’s iron pour can be described perfectly as a well choreographed team-effort.

Junior sculpture student Mo Meehan says,“ It’s really cool that we’re using a scrap material, it’s a relatively low cost to the students but it’s cool foundry experience. It’s pretty unique and not found at most other institutions or art departments.”