DOBSON — Hot furnaces, crucible ladles, melting iron and molds are not the everyday tools of artists, which is why a special metallurgy workshop was held this week at Surry Community College in Dobson led by Phillip Harrison.
Harrison is a metallurgist who owns and operates Penumbra Design Studio in Winston-Salem, a studio that has installed sculptures and led lectures and demonstrations of fine art and architectural sculpture across the United States, France and Great Britain. Metallurgy is the science that deals with the procedures used in extracting metals from their ores, purifying and alloying metals, and creating useful objects from metals. Harrison is also a versatile blacksmith, Timber Frame builder and is constructing his own airplane.
The Sculpture Intensive started on Wednesday and continued until Thursday. Harrison’s mobile cupola was located in the parking lot outside of the Ceramics Studio, which is located in the E building on the Dobson campus. A mobile cupola is basically a traveling furnace in which metal is melted and then poured directly into a crucible ladle or a bowl with a handle for pouring hot metal, according to Richard Montgomery, Associate of Fine Arts coordinator at SCC.
“The metal is carried to molds and poured in while it is molten hot. Ductile Iron will be the metal that Mr. Harrison will be melting and pouring,” Montgomery said. “Some students at SCC have made wax images that are being invested in an industrial grade mold material. This forms a ‘crust’ around the wax. When these molds dry, the wax is melted and evaporated, leaving a vacant space where the wax positive once was.”
Montgomery said the molds will be fired in a kiln up to around 1,500 degrees to harden them. Then, they will be set into a sand pit, and someone will pour the molten metal out of the ladle into the molds. Students also prepared a mixture of sand, resin and a binder to pour around their creations in preparation for their bath in molten iron.
“Once cooled, the investment mold is broken away to reveal the metal object. The process is called the lost wax method. This is the type of casting that is done by artists and industrial parts manufacturers. Of course, what we will be doing will be on a smaller scale than industry. Another type of mold called a sand mold will be available for participants to carve directly into in order to create a relief. So, basically we will be operating a hot furnace, melting iron, pouring it into molds, and then breaking open the molds to reveal the art objects that participants create.”
Safety measures will be taken to ensure a safe pour, and the event is open to the public. Molds are limited on a first-come, first-serve basis. The event was organized by SCC’s Cultural Events sub-committee and sponsored by the Diversity Committee.
“I’d asked (Harrison) if we could do some small, three dimensional freestanding pieces so he brought in an industrial casting mix so we can give students a better understanding of the process,” added Montgomery. He said the extracurricular activity is an opportunity for students to add another creative technique to their repertoire.
“Phillip (Harrison) volunteered 20 hours extra to help students with this project,” added Montgomery. “Student interest in this has run high and we worked Wednesday night until 10 p.m. to get ready.”