Fort Hays State University was host to the 2012 Western Cast Iron Art Conference on May 23-26, 2012. Attracting artists and students from all over the country, the conference serves as a way to educate, demonstrate, and exhibit cast iron art. Among the many showcases available, the conference included a variety of workshops, panel discussions, and fiery performances for spectators. Previous conferences have been held in Denver, Colorado and Missoula, Montana. The Western Cast Iron Art Conference is a biennial event organized by the Western Cast Iron Art Alliance, which acts as a non-profit organization. The Alliance was founded by a core group of members, all of whom reside in the Western states and are deeply rooted in the art of iron casting. Every one of the founding members of the organization is employed at a university or community college, and is intimately invested in art education. “It is our main goal to make sure that we are providing an educational experience for the students and community members,” said Toby Flores, an Alliance member and Associate Professor of Art at Fort Hays State University. “The conference is a great way to showcase talent and teach at the same time,” Flores continued.
Some of the noted artists included: Mary Neubauer, Arizona State University; Coral Lambert, Alfred University; Mike Feeney, San Francisco; Andrew Marsh, Kentucky; Matt Wicker, New York; John Hachmeister, Kansas University; and Thom Gipe, Illinois. Flores was excited to see so many come from all over the country.
The conference keynote speaker was Daniel Hunt, Sculpture Professor at Kansas State University. On Wednesday night, May 23, Hunt gave his keynote speech and had his exhibition reception at the FHSU Robbins Center. Wayne Proratz, Professor of Sculpture and Foundry at the University of Minnesota, was present to lead a discussion and demonstration on the construction and operation of a brick Tatara furnace. On Friday, May 25, the ancient smelting process, which can take up to eight hours, took place in the Rarick Hall sculpture yard. The bloom that was produced was handed off to blacksmiths Walter Ware, Tom Fox, and Jillian Thompson and was forged into a usable billet. Perhaps the most hands-on experiences for the spectators at the conference were the available workshops. Each workshop was held at the Fort Hays State University Rarick Hall Foundry. Here, whether one is a seasoned professional or a first time sculptor, FHSU students provided assistance to the participants who created their own original piece of artwork. “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, there were panel discussions hosted by some of the biggest names in iron casting, and the largely anticipated performance pour, which took place on the 25th.
The Western Cast Iron Art 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. Although there are other conferences that celebrate cast iron, the Western Cast Iron Art Conference is the only avenue that focuses solely on western cast iron practices. For more information visit www.wciaa.org.
Executive Assistant of Marketing and Communications, FHSU Foundation
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