The Birth of an Iron Map 2010-2011

A lot of people have asked, " So how did you come up with the US map as iron skillets?".  And so for the first time ever, I'm going to take you way back, deep into the organic bowels of my journey across 2 years of prototyping and following my nose.

The first state shaped skillet that I cast was Wisconsin, at my little studio space in Milwaukee WI back in February, 2010. I was with a skeleton crew of local artisans who paired with me as both my mentors and inspirational team to help build a small iron melting furnace and take destiny into our creative hands. 

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That first Wisconsin skillet was truly born on a whim.  It was so cold, and such a thin castings, that it actually should have never turned out!  But it did , & the reason I made the Wisconsin state pan was because it was something born out of the pride & honor I felt being with my friends, pulling together our skills from the grit of a Midwestern craft & passions of the American Dream. In the courtyard of that studio, we had conquered the world !  Or at the very least, we discovered we did something right, and now had a furnace capable of melting cast iron for our future artworks.

Everyone who was there wanted to share in the delight of feast cooked inside my little Wisconsin pan. It was an immediate connection to the pride we had for being from Wisconsin, and it was equal to the family-building social activity of making food together and surviving on our happy accomplishments. 

Immediately after this iron pour, I had to catch a flight that I scheduled out to LA to visit a fellow sculptor friend of mine who had gone to school with me & was my partner-in-crime in the foundry at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. The flight there allowed me 3 hours to ponder what had just happened, and ask myself the question. "What would the whole USA look like as skillets?". Seriously. That's what I was thinking!  It's crazy how vivid this memory and vision was of what that would look like all together. I pulled the page of flight-patterns out from the back of seat in front of me, and began to use the layout of the USA as my template for where to draw the handles. 

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The next 9 castings of the states after this first pour involved a lot of failures. Turns out, the original Wisconsin pattern, and 6 other Midwestern state patterns that I poured that year would fail consecutively 5 more times after that, until I finally talked to an old-timer pattern maker in South Milwaukee to help me figure out what was going wrong.  He advised me to thicken the bottom of the pattern by as little as 1/8in, and... Voila !  One major variable was corrected. 

One thing many people don't realize about the artisan network of iron casters, is that we travel a lot to other artisan foundries all across our regions and beyond, to gain an opportunity to pour with other people and learn new mould making techniques & furnace operation styles. The cross pollination with other artists allows me to constantly grow in my artisan run foundry education & experience working with many different furnace designs and approaches to how other studios are set up for production.

But the first time I got my mind blown by how production is really handled, was when my good friend and artisan-foundry-Mentor Kelly Ludeking invited me up to do some castings at a commercial facility in Minneapolis MN. Smith Foundry Co. is considered a small job shop, and they handle mainly 1lb - 75lb industrial castings in both grey and ductile iron.  Kelly's mentor and long time friend, John Poole, is an artist who works in the bonded resin sand mould department, and is a master of gating designs, tips & tricks for how to improve our pace and production time for our own studios. 

I wanted to learn how to successfully gate & prepare an earlier pattern of an Annie Oakely waffle iron that I had designed WAY back in 2009.  

Smith Foundry : Casting the last 28 states

Art Prize 2011

Into its 3rd year, ArtPrize is a new but extremely enticing exhibition opportunity for artists all over the globe. Coined as “the world’s largest prize for a publicly voted on artpiece”, the coveted winner for this 2 week long indoor / outdoor exhibition is a cool $250,000 !! 

I did NOT enter this just for the money.  Honest !!  I really just needed a substantial deadline to get this idea done, and so I used this very public, yet very geographically close by exhibition to complete this iron skillet map idea I’ve been working on for two years now.  

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The unique part of Artprize is that submissions into the event are not taken by some formal jury or group of designated people. We, the artists, must connect personally with the various venues around Grand Rapids, MI.  A “venue” is defined as any public space, inside or out, that signs up to be part of the ArtPrize event.  Artists create a profile about themselves, and pitch their one idea for the show through email & ArtPrize site correspondences. Of the 164 venues and 1,805 artists registered for this years’ event, there’s no promise that the $50 general submission fee will be find you a successful match for your work.

But I’m happy to report that I’ve been accepted into one of the cities finest venues !!!  The DeVos Place Convention Center, situated on the riverfront in the heart of Grand Rapids, will be home to nearly 100 artists, offering over 500 linear feet of wall space and over 5000 square feet of exterior space for artists of all mediums to show.

The Grand Gallery, DeVos Place Convention Center, Grand Rapids, MI

The Grand Gallery, DeVos Place Convention Center, Grand Rapids, MI

We found ourselves situated pleasantly inside the Grand Ball room, which is an enormous space filled with natural light and huge ceilings : perfect for this dark & heavy idea that I’m proposing.

The install of my creative efforts in this venue was one of the biggest rewards to years of work that I’ve ever experienced. I was so thankful to Eddie Tadlock our curator for giving me a chance, and to all my friends and Kickstarter backers who’d helped so magnificently on my journey to one of the biggest pieces I’ve made so far in my career.