The last pour: Celebrating the end of an era for one of Canada's first art foundries
The University of Windsor's foundry closed last month — but its legacy lives on
Sculptor and arts educator Zeke Moores has the University of Windsor's McEnglevan Speedy-Melt B-700 furnace tattooed over his heart. By the time he'd completed grad school (and before he spent another decade or so teaching there), he'd used the foundry furnace so much, it felt not only like an important part of his art practice, but like a part of him. So, he literally made it a part of him.
Turning it on for what he knew was the final time, he says, brought back a lot of memories. It was difficult to believe that the whole thing — the place he'd worked alongside so many artists and made some of his favourite and most recognized works — was over.
Last month, Moores, his wife and School of Visual Art Sculpture technician Lucy Howe and sculpture professor Rod Strickland conducted the final metal pour at the LeBel Building bronze foundry in front of an audience of about 50 students, friends and other mourners.
To celebrate the institution at its end, an exhibition of works by students, staff and alumni produced at the foundry was displayed in the SoVA Gallery, including a piece by Moores. Erica Glaskin-Clay — a visual arts student for whom the foundry, she says, "captured a piece of her heart" — curated the show. Two years earlier, she'd begun a petition to save it.
After 47 years, Ontario's — perhaps Canada's — first university art foundry has closed. The disconnect order's been issued, Strickland says. All the equipment's been sold to McMaster. When the new School of the Creative Arts facility opens in the downtown core for Fall 2017, the foundry — which would have been too costly to redesign for zero emissions — will not move with it.
Artist and professor Bill Law opened the University of Windsor's bronze foundry in 1970, located first in a repurposed gas station and garage at Wyandotte and Sunset, across the street from the original Fine Arts building. The metal melting furnace, crucible tongs, pouring cradle and various other casting equipment were hand built on site by Law with the help of a few students.
Windsor was a trend-setter in arts education, Law says, and the foundry was a significant part of that legacy. The facility nurtured multiple generations of sculptors; it's been influential to Canadian art history. Whether as students or artists-in-residence, Ray Cronin, Sarah Maloney, Paul Sasso, Alison Oulette-Kirby, David Poolman and Kim Adams have all spent time at its furnace.
Strickland first encountered the foundry in 1976 as an undergrad, he remembers. He was taken by the ability to transform your ideas into bronze, "this semi-precious materials that seems somewhat timeless and has such a sense of history to it." He liked the physicality and the craft. This was in an era when half of the people he went to high school with went straight to the car manufacturers after graduation. Windsor was a place, he says, where people made things. It still is.
While it's sad to see the tradition pass, Strickland says, the new facility represents a tremendous and exciting investment in both the arts and the city's downtown. School of Creative Arts director Karen Engle agrees: "While we recognize that the foundry has been an important and unique component of our program, we are thrilled to be able to offer our visual arts students opportunities to create artworks on some new tools that will prepare them for a thoroughly digital world."
The school's been investing in 3D printing technologies, CNC machines and other forms of electronic fabrication to expose students to 21st-century art-making practices. "I think the university is saying, 'Let's keep an eye on the future,'" Strickland says, "and these technologies are the future of manufacturing."
With the foundry's last pour, it seemed fitting for Moores and Strickland to each fill a mould. Strickland cast seven bronze walnuts. His art practice often explores natural forms, so the walnuts felt like an appropriate way to memorialize the moment, he says.
For Moores' recent work, he's been casting objects from around his studio and building them into sculptural stacks. Sometimes the stacks get wobbly, so he has a bunch of wooden shims lying around for support. He decided to cast six of the shims to be included in a future work. That way, it's sort of like some small part of the place that supported and strengthen him gets a brand new life.