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The synergism of artist and foundry.

The Synergism of Artist and Foundry

Smith Foundry and artist John Poole have joined forces to advance the public's perceptions of cast metal art and the foundry behind the artist.

Smith Foundry pours varying grades of gray and austempered ductile iron castings. The foundry, which has been in business for 83 years, is in Minneapolis, MN. The company has a strong customer base located primarily in the upper Midwest. Longtime foundryman Neal Ahlstrom, who heads the operation, recognizes the importance of contributing to the community. As his community project, he has chosen to support artists who work in cast metal.

John Poole, 34, Smith Foundry's artist-in-residence, is an accomplished artist and sculptor who is devoted to expressing his art in cast metal.

While metalcasting can be expensive and time consuming for an artist, Poole is enterprising. As a student in the arts master's program at the University of Minnesota, he searched for a way to collaborate with a commercial foundry. He worked several years as an art fellow at Wisconsin's Kohler Co, which supports its arts program in cooperation with foundry and ceramics operations. While working with Ruth Kohler, he was instrumental in including cast metal artists in the company's arts program.

At Kohler, Poole learned to make large cast sculptured pieces using production equipment. This freed him from much of the routine foundry tasks and allowed him time for more creative efforts.

"When I finished at Kohler, I knew that I could not continue to make the kind of sculpture I wanted in my old garage studio," Poole said. "At that moment in my career, I couldn't afford art foundries and most couldn't offer the personal involvement I needed to make the kind of sculpture that I do."

He searched for another foundry-artist arrangement that would give him the freedom to pursue his artistic talent. Eventually, he linked with the old Scott Atwater Foundry in Minneapolis. He recalls that the laboratory analysis work he performed there helped him understand the metallurgy of castings, and proved to be a great help in expanding his metal-working techniques. At this time, he began to cast works for other artists and was gaining a reputation for his foundry skills.

Simultaneously, at Smith Foundry, Ahlstrom had begun to look for methods to increase the public's awareness of castings.

"Most people don't realize what a large percentage of items include iron castings - everything from refrigerators to exercise bikes to cars," he said. "And the engineers who design those components are artists, too."

When Scott Atwater Foundry closed, Poole made it a point to meet Ahlstrom and the two made an arrangement. Smith Foundry would appoint Poole as its artist-in-residence in exchange for Poole assisting on trade promotional activities, safety and lab projects on a part-time basis.

The agreement between the foundryman and the artist has been successful.

"Art is of increasing importance to our business because it highlights our prototype capabilities and enhances our commitment to quality," Ahlstrom said.

Poole noted that the arrangement is good for everyone in that he has complete freedom to assist other artists just discovering the beauty and versatility of cast metal, and others who have found art casting beyond their budgets.

Poole said at Scott Atwater he was given 400 ft of studio space in exchange for 20 hours a week of lab work. Since space is at a premium at Smith, he works primarily at night. He has no specific assignments, but works on projects sporadically, some for few hours, others lasting several weeks.

Ahlstrom is convinced that the intangible benefits of having a resident artist outweigh any material gain.

"Casting art has broadened our perspective of the casting process," he said. "We don't often see our end product, but when we're making art we participate in the final product. It adds pride to our craftsmanship. We find that it has removed some of the unfavorable stereotypes between worker and artist, between the public and the foundry industry."

Last year, Poole helped Smith Foundry sponsor a competition for art students of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the University of Minnesota Studio Arts program. Smith Foundry staff and Poole cast the sculptures from the students' molds, rented a gallery for a public showing and donated prizes to the artists chosen by a jury of community art leaders.

Ahlstrom said he wanted to demonstrate the link between metalcasting and fine art to the public. He feels that one of the benefits of the successful show was that it brought his company and the foundry industry closer to the community. By showcasing the talent of its art students, the foundry was able to publicly define the beauty of the foundryman's skill and acquaint the art community with the aesthetic potential of the cast metal industry.

The exhibition also challenged art students' perspectives on art and the casting process, Poole added.

Smith Foundry and John Poole are evidence of the traditional bond between artist and foundryman. Both have benefited from their partnership and have shared their enthusiasm for the creative used of cast metal with the community.

Their partnership is not unique, but its synergism has enriched their own relationship and the one with the public.
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Title Annotation:special section: Artcasting '90; sculptor John Poole
Author:Bex, Tom
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:Partnership sculpts artists' vision.
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