Teens look to cast iron art
BY PAT FARNELLI
High school students from Wyoming and Susquehanna Counties will pour hot molten iron into handmade molds this weekend at the Arts on Fire event this weekend at the Scranton Iron Works.
Teens from Lackawanna Trail, Mountain View, PATH, and Elk Lake will set the night ablaze Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the historic Scranton Iron Works, watching molten iron turn to steel before their eyes.
In preparation, they are getting their hands dirty in the most elemental and earthy materials, forming sculpture from wax and clay, cow dung and iron, using ancient methods as well as those of the industrial revolution. Odors of cooking coke, melting paraffin and wax, and clay slurry permeate the sculpture studio and the outdoor forge patio as students eagerly embrace the chance to use materials beyond their reach in public school, in a highly creative venue.
Some of the teens have poured iron before.
Others are momentarily repelled by the dry, ground manure they stir into clay slip to encapsulate their wax sculptures. Then they plunge their hand into the bran-like porridge and grab their first fistful.
The greenish brown slab wax is hard, and resists modeling until warmed in hot water or stroked with the point of a heated soldering iron.
First, you wrestle your wax into submission. Then, you wrap it in a dung/clay capsule on a stem which channels the hot iron into the space formerly occupied by the wax form. The wax melts away, leaving the earthy form to mold the fiery iron. Last, you break away the extraneous parts of the form to reveal the small iron artifact you have made with your own hands.
That is not the limit to the creative experience, however. A forge waits outside, offering a chance to pick up blacksmithing skills. Clay molds can be built to make larger cast iron sculptures, and there are no limits.
Keystone Iron Works is an 8-week ARTS Engage! casting iron workshop program for high school students run by Keystone College.
The program culminates in a Friday night iron pour and Sunday community pour at the Scranton Iron Furnaces as part of the Arts on Fire Festival.
Students work directly with skilled visiting sculptors and faculty from Keystone College to learn the art of cast iron sculpture, including sculpting a clay positive, making and assembling a mold, preparing the furnace, melting and pouring the iron.
Kodi Rozanski of Lackawanna Trail is casting a 250-pound iron jack, like the pointy metal game piece you scoop into your hand at the bounce of a rubber ball.
Accepted at Keystone this fall, she enthuses at the chance to work with hot molten metal with no limitations, no judgment.
“My mold will weigh more than 1,000 pounds, that is why we have this rig to hoist it,” she said.
Keegan Ficcaro says that he was told of the workshop by his art teacher, George Barbolish of Mountain View High School.
Barbolish’s son Nathaniel, a Lackawanna Trail student, is also a participating artist.
Ficcaro looms over his tiny wax figure, scheming how to channel the hot iron to his bidding like a mythical Norse god.
“I really look forward to using such elemental materials,” he said.
“They call me Cloud,” one student proffers as he hoists his clay mold to the work table.
David Truitt, a homeschooled senior from Factoryville, wields ancient implements at the forge after setting aside his iron mold.
He says the iron workshop is a huge switch from his studies or his role as junior Factoryville Borough councilman.
“Here, I’m an artist, an artisan,” he said.
The students cook bituminous coal into coke on the forge, saturating the sulfurous ash with water so that it can be shaped into a sort of beehive oven above the red hot coals.
Art teacher Nikki Moser of Keystone said that the Arts on Fire event was conceived as an industrial art festival by about 20 different program representatives around the table, including the Steamtown Historical Site, the Lackawanna Coal Mine, the Iron Works, and the Keystone art department.
On Friday night, the iron furnaces and Bessemer converter will be fired up at the “Fire at the Furnace” fundraiser event, at 159 Cedar Street in Scranton between 8 and 11 p.m.
Tickets to Friday’s event are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate, with children under 12 free. The Saturday and Sunday festival is free to the public.