Playing with Fire: Metal Casting at Piedmont College

There is no denying that Athens is a college town and that the University of Georgia is the largest contributor to that atmosphere. However, it is not the only institute of higher learning worth mentioning. Tucked away in the Classic City is the small, quaint campus of Piedmont College. Though small, Piedmont has a lot to offer in business, education, art and many other fields of study. I recently paid a visit to the college's main location in Demorest GA which is only about an hour away, and caught some of the students in the middle of an interesting project. Piedmont offers several different avenues in the visual arts, including ceramics, painting, drawing and graphic design. However, thanks to the new Smith Williams Art Building, part of the additions and renovations that have taken place over the last few years, the students have access to an exciting new medium: metal.

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Casting Aluminum at Piedmont College North Georgia [/caption]The head of the art department and professor of 3D art Chris Kelly loves to show off the metal forge to visitors. The forge, a place where molten metal is poured into molds to create sculptures, was already in full force when I arrived. The students were preparing their molds while Chris monitored the temperature in the furnace. The sculptures were made out of Styrofoam using hot knives and glue, then buried in sand to create the molds. Today they will be casting aluminum, which melts at a fairly low temperature (though still plenty hot enough to warrant doing several dry runs for safety). The kiln can also be used to cast bronze, though the molds are made with wax and plaster.

Piedmont College Art program

Piedmont College students forging metal[/caption]As the furnace reaches the right temperature, two students wearing what look like shiny space suits to protect them from the heat, prepare to do their first real pour. They team-lift the crucible (the container for the molten metal) from the furnace and carefully maneuver it to each of the molds, pouring liquid aluminum into each mold. There is no guarantee that the sculptures will come out intact, as it is impossible to know what is happening under the sand until the sculptures have cooled.

Piedmont College art program

Piedmont College metal furnace[/caption]Eventually, each student pulls their still-steaming sculpture from the sand and takes it to the water hose to be sprayed and cooled. Success! All of the sculptures have survived. This assignment produced a series of abstract sculptures, which I'm told were created by taking the initials of the students and morphing them together into new forms. The students are excited, but the process isn't quite finished. They will spend several days grinding and smoothing their works until they're perfect.

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Piedmont College metal art program[/caption]It is an exciting time at Piedmont College. Every time I return it seems something has been added or improved for the sake of the students, and as a graduate of Piedmont's art department myself, I'm happy to see that the arts are alive and well and continue to thrive. If you ever have the time to visit the campus, you will see a lot of great works being made by very talented students...and perhaps you'll be lucky enough to see the forge in action!