SHAFER — Roses and chocolates are familiar Valentine’s Day traditions around the world, but Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer has its own fiery take on the Valentine’s Day season. 

The ninth annual Hot Metal Pour event will take place Saturday, Feb. 17, and is free and open to the public. This yearly event began in 2010 as a way to gather and create artwork while warming up the dreariness of Minnesota winter.

Attendees will be able to watch and talk with professional artists and witness the creation of metal masterpieces in real time. 

Prior to the metal pour event each year, Franconia offers mold-making workshops to couples, families and individuals who want to make a metal creation of their own. If you missed the chance to attend the workshops, there will be another set coming up in July and August, culminating in a Community Collaboration Hot Metal Pour on Aug. 4. 

Amber White is a Franconia program assistant and sculpture artist, who coordinated the event along with University of Minnesota professor of sculpture and foundry Tamsie Ringler. The U of M foundry students spend the weeks leading up to the event helping to prepare the furnaces, tools and materials, and will be on hand during the day of the iron pour. White wrote a two-part blog to explain the process for this year’s event Valentine’s Day Hot Metal Pour.

“As an iron artist myself, molten iron makes my heart skip a beat!” she wrote.

The pour takes place on the outdoor “work pad” area of the park, which is temporarily transformed into an iron foundry for the day. Metal casting can take a lot of different forms, but those who create sculptures at the Hot Metal Pour will end up with one-piece “open face” relief sculptures. Their work starts in the community workshops, where they create a scratch block sculpture of their design using carving tools, guided by Franconia artists. 

In preparation for the Hot Metal Pour, artists begin breaking down recycled iron from discarded items such as old radiators and bathtubs. The process also uses a substance called “coke,” which is a refined coal product. Both have to be broken down with hammers into smaller fragments. 

The type of furnace used at this event is called a cupolette. It consists of a metal cylinder lined with a heat-resistant clay material. This will allow the iron inside to melt at upwards of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. When the iron is released, the red-hot glowing liquid metal flows into a 150 pound ladle, which is then carried on a long pole at either end by two artists and use to pour the sculpture molds. 

This pour team carries this 100-pound ladle to each of the molds that have been laid out on the ground, including the molds created by visiting artists. After the blocks are poured, the artists will remove them from the sand mold and quench them in water with a pair of tongs. Angle grinders will be used to soften any sharp edges and clear remaining sand. 

White’s second blog post focused on the people behind the world of iron sculpture. 

“For the artists involved and the public who make molds or come to witness the pour, iron strikes a chord on many levels,” she wrote. She said that it inspires connection to the earth, to the body through iron in the blood and to world history through its long-lived role in helping build civilizations.

“Once you start seeing iron, you’ll see it everywhere you look!” she wrote. 

To see more details about the casting process, visit the Franconia Sculpture Park blog at www.franconiablog.wordpress.com

The park will also offer two behind-the-scenes tours to experience the process of casting iron. Mountain Mike’s food truck will be onsite, selling hot cocoa, coffee, cheese curds, mini donuts and pronto pups. 

Anyone is welcome to attend the hot metal pour event 12-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17 at Franconia Sculpture Park, 29836 Saint Croix Trail, Franconia. To learn more about the sculpture park and upcoming events in 2018, visit www.franconia.org.  

Jackie Bussjaeger is the editor of the Forest Lake and St. Croix Valley Lowdown, and can be reached at 651-407-1229 or lowdownnews@presspubs.com

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