A Walker Tour Guide field trip (November 2) to Vesper college for a bronze pour was a gas. Many of us expected a tame demonstration that we could photograph from a safe distance. But no, the evening was to be participatory learning at its most adventuresome: we made the molds, and what’s more, we poured the bronze.
The college, a niche institution that grants MFAs in Ecological Architecture, is located in a repurposed brick telephone building off East Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. Dan Noyes, its director, and assistant Heidi Sime issued goggles and gloves and showed us how to use power tools, chisels and hammers. With these tools and in a spirit of experimentation and cooperation, we chipped a pitted figure (already outlined) a la Giacometti into the wooden boards that served as a mold for our “slab angel.”
Two of us were summoned outside where a small but fiery furnace, shooting blue flames out its sides, brought the metal to a formidable 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. We received a quick lesson on handling a hot, heavy crucible with a three-foot long set of two-man tongs that could hook the pot, clamp it, and transport it to the mold. We also received helmets, leather leg gaiters and giant gloves as well as the urgent advice to move quickly but smoothly and under no circumstances, to drop the crucible.
When the mold was ready, Dan pulled off the furnace’s cover and sidewall to reveal the fabled crucible and its contents of superheated molten bronze. The thing looked dark, dangerous and hotter than Hades, but we managed to snare the container, lift it, move it, and tip its load of liquified metal into the wooden mold, which immediately burst into yellow flames. Dan doused them with sand; we set the empty crucible down and unclamped the tongs.
Later the mold, partly gone but still holding its hardening lump of bronze, went into a wood fire (only 800 degrees) until the mold was burned up. Feeling somewhat surprised and mightily pleased at our hands-on mold-making and bronze-casting achievements, we sat around the fire, feasting on grapes, camembert, truffles and wine, all provided by our hosts. Heidi says the finished piece will be on view at “Scarpa’s Holiday Sale/Show” Friday, December 2 from 5 to 9 pm at Vesper College, 201 6th Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.