Molten iron as performance art will be the star of the four days of the Western Cast Iron Art Conference from May 23 to May 26, hosted by Fort Hays State University's Department of Art and Design.
The public is invited to attend and watch as three furnaces work their fiery magic at the bonfire site just east of the Robbins Center. Molten iron will be poured into such things as a reconstructed tree and a house made of ears of corn.
"The art is in the performance rather than in the resulting objects," said Toby Flores, associate professor of art and design at FHSU. "The artifacts may have some value as a relic of the performance, but the real art is in the show."
Another day, Friday, will be spent building an iron smelter, and, on Saturday, five smelters -- and grandstands for the public -- will be set up on a closed-off North Campus Drive for a production pour for the professional and student participants who registered and paid to take part in the conference's workshops and other activities.
Thursday will feature three receptions at three locations for an exhibit of sculpture, mostly iron. "This just illustrates the breadth of the whole process of making and casting iron," said Lee Powers, chair of the Department of Art and Design at FHSU.
Attracting artists and students from all over the country, the conference serves as a way to educate, demonstrate and exhibit cast iron art. The many conference's showcases include a variety of workshops, panel discussions, and performances for the public. Previous conferences have been held in Denver, Colo., and Missoula, Mont.
The Western Cast Iron Art Conference is a biennial event organized by the Western Cast Iron Art Alliance, a non-profit organization founded by a core group of members, all from western states, who are deeply rooted in the art of iron casting. Every founding member 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 Flores. “The conference is a great way to showcase talent and teach at the same time.”
The Hays conference is shaping up to be the biggest in the history of the alliance, said Flores. Noted artists are coming from all corners of the country, including Mary Neubauer, Arizona State University, Phoenix; Coral Lambert, Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y.; Mike Feeney, San Francisco; Andrew Marsh, Kentucky; Matt Wicker, New York; John Hachmeister, the University of Kansas; and Tom Gipe, Illinois.
The keynote speaker is Daniel Hunt, a professor of sculpture at Kansas State University. Hunt's address begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, in FHSU's Robbins Center.
Wayne Proratz, a professor of sculpture and foundry at the University of Minnesota, will lead the discussion and demonstration on the construction and operation of the furnace, a brick Tatara furnace, on Friday, May 25, in the foundry yard at Rarick Hall.
A demonstration of the ancient Japanese smelting process, from building the furnace to using it, will be all day Friday, beginning at 8 a.m. The "bloom" -- the iron produced -- will be handed off to blacksmiths Walter Ware, Tom Fox and Jillian Thompson and will be forged into a usable billet.
Perhaps the most hands-on experiences for the participants at the conference are the workshops. Each will be held at the Rarick Hall foundry. Workshops are open to seasoned professionals and first-time sculptors alike. FHSU students will provide assistance as participants create their own original pieces.
“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, panel discussions will be hosted by some of the biggest names in iron casting, and the largely anticipated performance pour, which will take place on Friday, May 25.
"We have some really cool people coming to participate in our panels, and I am really excited for them to see what Fort Hays State is all about," said Flores.
The 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. Other conferences celebrate cast iron, but the Western Cast Iron Art Conference is the only avenue that focuses solely on Western cast iron practices.
For a complete list of panels, workshops, and performances visit www.wciaa.org. For more information, contact the Department of Art and Design at 785-628-4247.