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Indulge Your Pyrophilia: Bond with Fire at Iron Pour

Iron casting at CU Denver.

Liquid iron is poured.

An Iron Pour artwork, "Deep Time" by Walter Ware.

"Insect" by J.J. Worthington.

"Feather" by Caitlyn Canniff.

Harry Kleeman and his performance gear for Iron Pour II.

Pouring molten iron is something of a dying art, but it's alive and well at CU Denver. Coming up on March 22 is Iron Pour II, a free public spectacle of fire and iron.
2,300 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty hot. It's hot enough to melt iron, as CU Denver students and faculty will demonstrate on  campus on March 22 at Iron Pour II.
"We have to work with it when it's really hot, 2,300 to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit," says Rian Kerrane, Associate Professor of Sculpture at CU Denver. "What we're doing is a rejuvenation of old industrial process. It's downsized by artists for artists."
Iron casting at CU Denver.Iron casting started at CU Denver in 2005, when the school built its first cupola -- the coke-fired furnace that melts the iron -- named Irish Luck. "Everybody builds their own cupola," says Kerrane. "There's no factory."
The iron-casting process dates back to the Bronze Age -- 3600 to 1200 B.C. It's slow and hard work that results in about 100 pounds of quickly hardening molten iron every 15 minutes. Then it's a choreographed race against time to get it in the appropriate mold that sometimes involves pouring red hot liquid iron from eight feet in the air.
Unlike Bronze Age casters, Kerrane notes, they're recycling the iron. "We're using scrap iron from a scrapyard," she says, describing a pile of dented radiators and appliances that are reborn by fire.
There are only three active industrial cupolas left in Colorado, and beyond that there aren't any between here and St. Louis, says Kerrane. She's active with the Western Cast Iron Art Alliance, which held its inaugural conference in Denver in 2008.
The Irish-born sculptor is planning to take a group of students to an international conference in Latvia next year. "There's a community of iron casters in academia and the underground," says Kerrane of the global iron-casting movement. 
At the upcoming Iron Pour on March 22, Irish Luck will fire up once again, as will a new cupola, the Exquisite Cupolette, along with a 15-foot iron-moving and -pouring lever by visiting artist Matt Toole from Savannah College of Art and Design. Toole will also speak at a public lecture on March 20.
"It'll be the inaugural pour for the Exquisite Cupolette," says Kerrane. "We'll run both of them and we'll be running the lever to pour the iron."Liquid iron is poured.
A team of 20 artists in safety gear will be melting, moving and molding the iron for a live audience. "There's a certain focus and drive" that comes with iron casting, says Kerrane. "It's very dramatic." 
The student-made molds awaiting the molten metal range from the anatomical to the abstract. Expect a few found items and everyday objects like slices of toast, adds Kerrane. "Anything that can be turned to ash or carbon can be replicated, or anything that can be removed from a mold." She's especially fond of "soft" objects molded in iron, like clothing or rope.
Because of the inherent theatricality of the iron-casting process, Iron Pour is something best done in front of an audience.  "We're sharing the creative process of art-making with the community," says Kerrane. "There's production and performance mixed together." And it's interactive: For $10, guests can get a scratch tile of a design they make in a sand-backed mold.
"We all love fire, and the proximity to the fire is invigorating," says Kerrane. "And I don't just mean the artists -- the audience loves the fire and gets a big thrill from it."
Iron Pour II will be held from dusk to 10 p.m. outside the loading dock CU Denver's Arts Building (1150 10th St.) on Friday March 22. Contact Rian Kerrane for more information.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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