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Pilgrimage will feature new kind of art

A different kind of art is coming to Selma during Spring Pilgrimage — cast-iron sculpture art demonstrated by Alabama Art Casting.

The nonprofit art education organization, which uses the Tannehill Ironworks Park as its home base, will hold workshops and demonstrations at The Foundry throughout Pilgrimage Weekend March 20-22.

Scrap iron will be heated in a batch furnace, melted and poured into scratch block molds of chemically treated sand, then recycled into works of cast-iron art. Pilgrimage visitors who purchase the molds and take the time to etch a sketch on the square blocks will create the art. The blocks can be used as trivets, house numbers, shelf art, handprint casts and garden sculptures.

“We are excited to be able to demonstrate an iron pour at our historic foundry,” said Jonathan Matthews, chairman of The Foundry tour and art casting event. “Alabama Art Casting has its own shed at Tannehill and has done demonstrations in other locations such as Red Top Mountain State Park, Ga., and the Sucarnoochee Folklife Festival in Livingston. They are able to come to Selma because of a grant from the Black Belt Community Foundation.”

Johnny Williams, who heads the art casting organization, expects to have other types of molds as well as guest artists. Often, sculpture majors and faculty from regional universities assist with the demonstrations. Williams will introduce the sculpture process, and other crew members will be available to help people with carving, usually done with a nail or dremel. The iron pour will occur around 3 p.m. that Saturday, and for artists who want to spend more time on their work, a limited quantity of molds are available for purchase in advance. After the pour, casts take about 45 minutes to air dry.

Williams, of Eutaw, became interested in metal casting after meeting Rick Batten, who was the first metal caster and artist-in-residence at Sloss Furnace near Birmingham. After working with Batten for five years, the two started Alabama Art Casting in 1998 and located at Tannehill. “We were the first people to actively pour iron at Tannehill since Wilson’s Raiders came through and burned the ironworks at the end of the Civil War,” Williams noted.

He said much of Tannehill’s iron ore was manufactured into cookware for the Confederacy, but a significant amount was shipped to Selma to be processed for cannons, other weaponry and the exteriors of ironclad ships.

Batten has since started a parallel art casting program in Poland where he now lives, and Williams continues the Alabama project. During the Pilgrimage event, iron workers will use a batch furnace to recycle 80 pounds of iron about every eight minutes. Visitors are welcome to watch this free event outside a roped-off perimeter. However, there is a charge for the foundry tour. The Foundry is located down the hill from the Old Depot Museum at the foot of Water Avenue.

Molds can be purchased in advance by contacting Jonathan Matthews at 877-4253, work; or 875-6510, home; or emailing him at cahawbam@bellsouth.net. To check out other Pilgrimage events via the Internet, go to www.pilgrimage.selmaalabama.com.