Iron-clad friends work together

By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun

Nat Hesse stood, camera in hand, waiting for the iron that would fill his mold a few feet away. Hesse, a Santa Fe sculptor, had created a mold of a computer keyboard and monitor.

“It’s real hard-ware,” Hesse said with a laugh.

Hesse was one of many artists who have called Mesalands Community College home for the last week, getting ready for the college’s annual iron pour.

More than 5,000 pounds of scrap iron was ready to be melted, grouped in 150 “charges” of 35 pounds each. The charges were melted throughout the night in one of three heaters, or crucibles.

The iron, MCC art instructor D’Jean Jawrunner said, is heated with “coke,” a refined charcoal. For each charge, a seven-pound amount of coke is heated until it turns white hot, which pushes the iron to a melting temperature of more than 3,000 degrees.

The melted iron is poured into the artists’ molds, which many have been working on since Sunday. The process goes on until the artists run out of metal, coke or molds.

Due to the high temperatures involved, Jawrunner said many precautions are taken. Protective suits are required during pours, and the Tucumcari Fire Department supervised the event. The iron pour has never had fire department supervision before, but Jawrunner said it was the proper thing to do with dry conditions in the area.

Hesse said he heard about the iron pour from a friend, and came for the first time this year because it’s tough to find groups working on iron.

“Iron doesn’t get done often,” Hesse said. “It’s a very hot metal.”

Other metals, Hesse said, have much lower melting temperatures.

Others came from much farther away. Michael Cottrell runs a 3-D program for a community art organization in Jackson, Wyo.

Cottrell said it is his third year to come to the event, and he said the event has a community feel.

“The purpose in participating is a lot about the camaraderie of the artists as well as the art itself,” Cottrell said.

Cottrell could point out some former art classmates of his, along with former teachers.

Rachel Stevens of Las Cruces was on the other end of that spectrum. Stevens, a sculpting professor at New Mexico State, said she was at the event along with one of her students.

“It’s a very good thing,” Stevens said of the participation of both teachers and students. “We’re artists. We have to be learning all the time and we have to put ourselves in the position of being students.”

The complete pieces are removed from their molds this morning. The iron is usually cooled within an hour or two of pouring, but the artists said the project isn’t an individual endeavor.

“One of the things about pours,” Cottrell said, “is it requires a total team effort to ensure the collective success of everyone involved.”