Last weekend at SSW, we ran a course on how to run and maintain an iron cupolette furnace, led by the very talented Professor George Beasley. George’s vast knowledge of iron and instinctive approach whilst running iron furnaces is thanks to many years of experience and experimentation. He was born in Ironton, Ohio in 1943. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Cranbrook Academy of Art and began teaching at Georgia State University in the Fine Art Department in 1970. He was instrumental in incorporating iron casting into the universities sculpture program and created the Holiday Iron Pour in 1972 which is now the second oldest public iron pour in the USA. He retired as Regent’s Professor Emeritus and SSW are lucky to have had his expertise, friendship, support and input since 1994 at our workshop, here in North East Scotland, where he enjoys the summertime each year.
The 3 day intensive course began with George sharing documentation from his iron pouring archive, often featuring our Senior Technician Eden Jolly. After an opportunity to make simple moulds, George took the group through the necessary safety measures for preparing and running of the 12” short stack cupolette furnace. After experiencing the pour, participants then used what they had learnt in order to effectively run and maintain a larger 16” cupolette furnace.
One of the course participants was Stephen Murray who has previously worked at SSW as both an artist and technician. Stephen is now on our Board of Directors, works at Edinburgh College of Art as their casting technician and has very kindly shared a reflection of his experience:
“Having just returned from undertaking the Iron Cupolette course with Prof. George Beasley and Eden Jolly at SSW, I would like to say for the record how much I enjoyed the technical instruction, demonstration and experience of the course.
I am trying to recall as I go over my notes and photographs quite how much we managed to get through in such a short time. George’s talk on Friday evening was a great way to kick off the weekend and was a really useful aid to contextualize how key George’s own study, practice and academic career have been in the development of the studio/workshop scale Cupola/Cupolette furnaces. Along with an overview of the development of George’s practice and how it goes hand in hand with his technical development of the material processes involved and the ambition of his projects was quite inspiring.
After a late night mould making session on the Friday with the ever-helpful SSW technician Uist Corrigan, Saturday morning’s talk with George and Eden was an excellent technical explanation of the working of the Cupola/Cupolette furnace. This session clearly explained the workings and process of running this type of furnace. Moving straight out to have a look at the furnace meant we were able to apply the recent information given to a discussion around the furnace really helped to re-enforce the instruction we were getting.
Saturday afternoons practical demonstration of running the furnace by George was the most useful way to follow through from presentation, discussion and demonstration (with us shadowing George who explained clearly every stage and potential variables). It’s quite difficult to quantify how enabling a process this is, and I am not aware of anywhere else this can be done.
Sunday was the real test, Eden and George said they wouldn’t get involved (unless something really bad was going to happen) and allowed us to run the furnace and pour. As Eden rightly instructed, we were responsible for everybody who would be involved; from organizing pouring crew to letting casual observers know where was suitable to view from without getting in the way. I particularly benefitted from understanding the need to have someone taking notes at each stage of firing the furnace in order to keep track of time and temperature as well as to accumulate invaluable knowledge to take reference from in the future.
We tapped out three times on Sunday and all went well, obviously under the watchful eyes and ears of George and Eden, in a calm and controlled manner. Even the weather held out for us!
Obviously a weekends worth of experience is just a start and I, for one, am really keen to get back up as soon as possible to pour iron again to keep the instruction fresh as real experience takes many many years, but I hope this is the start of me starting to be able to share the possibilities of a Cupolette Furnace with peers, students and interested parties. I honestly feel there is nowhere quite like SSW for empowering and learning with most forms of making – which is a credit to all the people involved past and present. Can’t wait get back!
After a successful and enjoyable weekend, we are looking forward to all of the following iron pour courses and for future attendees! A huge thanks to George for imparting his iron knowledge, thanks to our technicians Eden and Uist for their further assistance and cheers to Ross Mclean for the amazing photographs.