Yardie Interviews → Anna Shapiro

October 5th, 2010 - Anna Shapiro, Artist and board member

This summer Anna Shapiro made the trip to Kidwelly, Wales to attend the sixth International Conference of Contemporary Cast Iron Art (Fe6).  The conference is a four-day event that takes place every four years and covers nearly all of the iron casting processes, history and technology from around the world.  There are discussions and demonstrations of new and old ideas in the world of cast iron.  Anna and Sparkie got together on a warm late summer afternoon to find out about iron casting in the twenty first century and how the Steel Yard will be able to utilize our new foundry space in 2011.

Also, this Thursday, October 7th, Anna will be giving a presentation about 17th Century Industrial Iron Casting in Wales.  It will be a small informal fireside presentation and barbeque at the Steel Yard beginning at 6 pm.
Please RSVP to .

Steel Yard:  Tell us about the International Conference of Contemporary Cast Iron Art.
Anna Shapiro:  I believe it started as a spin-off of the International Sculpture Center.  Fe6 was created to be more of a hands-on event.  There are casting and patination demos, performances, you can be involved in a pour, and if you bring your own furnace you don’t have to pay the conference fee.  A new chairperson, who selects where the event takes place and coordinates event details, runs each conference.  This was the second time it was held outside of the United States. 

SY:  What has been your involvement with iron casting?  Do you use it in your own art?
AS:  My experience started last year at Salem Art Works.  It was for the US/UK Iron Symposium run by Coral Lambert.  She is the head of the National Casting Foundry at Alfred University.  The Symposium brings together experienced and inexperienced metal casters to share information and run a pour together.  Sarah Clover, a teacher here at the Steel Yard, recommended that I go last year. 

SY:  What about the US/UK Iron Symposium drew you in?
AS:  I was interested in adding iron casting to my metalworking “repertoire”.  I’d done plaster casting and rubber mold making, but never any metals casting.  I wanted to fill in the gap. 

SY:  What other artists came to the Fe6 this year?  Where were they from?
AS:  The event was attended by a lot of professors, historians, and artists from the United States, the UK, Ireland and Europe. From different universities and collectives from all over.  People who attend are looking to connect with their colleagues, exchange ideas and learn more skills.  Casting Iron on this scale tends to be a “team sport”.  There is a real excitement about connecting with everyone who is involved. 

SY:  What was your role in the conference? 
AS:  I went as an artist and an ambassador for the Steel Yard.  As we get our foundry going it is important for us to make connections and know the experts in the field.  A number of us attended workshops to explore mold making techniques like CO2 silica sand casting and green sand.  What’s the point of pouring iron if you don’t have anything to pour it into?

SY:  Can you explain a little about working with a sand mold?
AS:  If you were to make a bowl, you’ll want to make a mold for the outside and inside of the bowl.  You would form your mold around a pattern, which is exactly the form you will end up with in metal.  You have to be able to take the molds halves apart so that you can remove the pattern.  When you put them back together, you have a void that gets filled with metal.  You also have to include gating for the metal to flow through, and vents to let the air inside the mold escape.  You coat the inside of the mold with a release, and when you put it back together, it must be fastened together with bands or straps to keep is from blowing apart.  Then the fun begins.

SY:  And how does the CO2 sodium silica process work? 

AS:  It’s just like traditional sand casting.  You want to make sure the sand is packed tightly against the pattern, using the finest sand you have.  The sand is mixed with sodium silicate, and when you gas it with CO2, the mixture bonds together.  You are left with a hardened sand mold.  Once you are finished with a mold, you can break it up and reuse it for other molds. 

SY:  What was the most exciting aspect of the conference?
AS:  It’s really hard to say.  There are so many amazing parts.  I guess it would be seeing how many different ways people have found to cast iron.  There are so many ways to make molds and use iron casting as performance.  And the people ...

SY:  Was the conference focused on innovative or traditional casting?
AS:  There is a huge contingent that is interested in preserving and reviving more traditional ways of casting.  But people are interested in casting techniques that range from the original smelting of iron, industrial techniques and figuring out how to cast using biodiesel as fuel.  The diversity is amazing.

SY:  The Steel Yard has foundry space reserved on site.  Do you think your experience at the conference will help to educate the Yard’s casting plans for 2011? 
AS:  Having a site where we can do small-scale casting is significant.  What draws people to the Yard is the sense of community, and the interest in learning a technique or skill.  Casting is really about collaboration.  There is a lot of information to be shared and the actual process takes more than one person.  That pad is going to be a site for a lot of education, hands-on experience and community building.

SY:  Were there casting processes that could find their home at the Steel Yard? 
AS:  I think CO2 mold making and green sand are really important for the Steel Yard.  They are both low impact, reusable materials, very hands-on and easy to do.  You could also use the process for aluminum or bronze.  Cumberland Foundry in Rhode Island makes very precise parts using green sand techniques.  They also use an induction furnace, so you’re not burning coal to make the heat. 

SY:  Do they have opportunities for people to see the process? 
AS:  They have a relationship with RISD’s industrial design program where classes work with the foundry to cast patterns.  The foundry is interested in expanding the understanding of iron casting around Rhode Island and offer tours of the facility.  They will also cast pieces for individuals looking to have something made in iron.

SY:  Were there similarities to the Kidwelly Industrial Museum and the Steel Yard?  Did it feel like home?
AC:  They were a hot rolling facility that made railroad tracks, i-beams, flat stock, etc.  It was a production facility, but a different step of the production process than here.  The environment is filled with tools that are not unlike those at the Steel Yard.  Currently though, its more of a historic site, not a living history. 

SY:  Could you see the conference taking place at the Steel Yard in the future?
AS:  Absolutely!  It would a wonderful thing.  We would have to plan for a lot of people and molten metal. 

SY:  What do you plan on doing with your experience?
AS:  I can see cast iron as being an element in my work for a long time.  Before the trip, I’d already made a number of sculptures with cast iron.  Mostly mixed media with cast iron elements.  I’m excited to have a facility to make that work, and a place to educate people about the process and history of casting. 

SY:  You’re an established artist in the Providence community.  What brought you here originally and how long have you been making art here? ?  Most importantly ... what’s keeping you in Providence?
AS:  I was invited to do a project at the Steel Yard the first year that courses were offered.  The project was a mural on the windbreak between what is now the Steel Yard and the 1 Sims property line.  Soon after, I received an artist’s trust grant to make part of the mural in steel.  I learned how to blacksmith, weld and fabricate at the Yard.  I got more involved and started teaching.  There was never a limit to what I could learn or do in Providence.   The Steel Yard is what keeps me here.

SY:  What is your most recent project? 
AS:  Right now I’m working on a commissioned 40’ railing for a deck out of steel and cable.  I use the Steel Yard’s studio access program to work on the fabrication, and my own studio for everything else. 

SY:  What is your favorite Steel Yard event?
AS:  Definitely the Iron Pour.

SY:  Final thoughts?
AS:  Get your iron on in 2011!