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Iron pours...


The UI Sculpture Studio was focused on metal casting, especially iron casting because of that metal’s low cost to students through the use of scrap iron along with Professor Julius Schmidt’s obsession with its technology.


[With other UI sculpture students, Wyrick even attended a Birmingham, Alabama workshop that concentrated on pouring iron and building small cupolas for individual use. Wyrick instead chose to work with iron foundries.]


Preparing for an “iron pour” was a team project. The Sculpture students first had to make their own molds of sand that were mixed with a hardening agent in a mixer or “muller.” In addition to the pieces to be made, care had to be taken to plan channels whose metal (that would later be cut or ground off) for the molten metal to pour to the pieces. And just before a “pour” the molds were buried in sand to prevent run-off if the mold leaked.


The first step in preparing for the iron pour was to “break iron.” The process of pouring iron started with sledge-hammering iron such as old home radiators into small pieces to feed into a tall (about 8’ high) open-topped cylindrical steel cupola that had been lined with a ceramic material to withstand the high temperatures.   


When the pour was begun, the fuel—coke--was lighted in the cupola. Students stood on a platform next to the cupola’s top to add charges of iron, coke and limestone. The cupola was superheated to melt the metal. Flames shot up from the top, making this a fearsome, almost primeval sight, since most pours were begun in the evening and darkness heightened the drama.


Molten iron, collecting at the Cupola’s base, could be viewed through tuyeres (small covered holes in its sides where compressed air could also be injected as needed). As the iron melted, it collected at the base of the cupola and that allowed judging if the amount of molten metal was ready to exit the Cupola.


The pour became even more spectacular when the cupola was tapped by hammering a wedge or spike into the tap hole in its base. A rapid, thick stream of red-hot molten iron shot out in a stream and needed to be caught in a ladle or crucible. In the midst of this, the tap hole had to be closed at the right time to stop the iron stream. This part of the process was done by Professor Schmidt and/or the most experienced students.


Charging the Cupola with coke, iron and limestone continued until enough iron was melted to fill all available molds and then any excess material in the cupola was dropped through the trapdoor in the cupola’s base.


The tongs holding the crucible filled with the molten iron, were then carried by two people (one at each end of the tongs) to the molds. One end of the tongs had handholds for a carrier to turn or tilt the crucible so that each mold could be filled.


Of course, casting metal sculptures was only the beginning of the process, because finishing them was yet another task . . .

Cast iron sculpture...

A1 Untitled - multiple faces on stand 1970s cast iron relief.jpg

This iron relief Untitled was the largest iron casting Wyrick made as a student at the UI Sculpture Studio. She mounted the relief on legs so it could be free-standing and displayed in an office.

Later it was put on long-term loan, as a wall piece, to the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City when the Englert’s art gallery was dedicated to Wyrick. And in 2021, Wyrick donated the sculpture to the Englert Theatre.


She mounted the relief on legs so it would be free-standing. Later it was put on long-term loan, as a wall piece, to the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City when the Englert’s gallery was dedicated to Wyrick. And in 2021, Wyrick donated the sculpture to the Englert Theatre.

B1 The Farm iron 1975 c79.jpg
B2 Platform 3 pc cast iron b021.jpg

Cast silicon bronze...

C1 Pillar & Egg cast silicon bronze plaque b007.jpg
C2 Threads - cast bronze b019.jpg
C3 Untitled - rough cast bronze pillar b018.jpg
C4 Cast silicon bronze (bookend) b029.jpg
C5 Untitled -Slider X- cast bronze b009 - 2views.jpg
C7 Untitled  cast bronze diptych b011.jpg
C6 Untitled wood pattern-cast bronze b011.jpg
D1 Untitled sculpture cast aluminum and bronze b025.jpg

Melting and

casting other metals...


Melting other metals such as bronze and aluminum was done inside the Sculpture studio, and that was a simpler process. That only required melting the metal in a crucible inside a crucible furnace and lifting the filled crucible out with tongs, but it still required two people to handle the tongs and to do the pours.


For a time, Wyrick owned a crucible furnace installed first in a double-height grain bin on her rented farm studio lawn. However that location was ended when a heavy storm collapsed the sides of the grain bin.


After checking safety issues, Wyrick found that a crucible furnace, properly vented, presented less of a danger at an in-town residence than ceramic kilns because its heat exits straight up and a kiln’s heat radiates sideways. 


She then had a studio built attached to the Wyricks’ home with a venting hood and had her crucible furnace and tall gantry moved from the damaged farm grain bin to her home studio.

Knowing the process paved the way...


With the experience of melting iron and other metals, and realizing the physical demands of her largest project, Untitled Wyrick asked Iowa Steel and Iron in Cedar Rapids, if they would be willing to pour iron for her Post Sculpture piece if she made the molds. They decided that they would do so at no cost to her on the basis of its being a student project.

By that time she knew casting and foundry processes and she respected and valued each person’s part in the foundry operation. She was able to work very well with commercial foundries at all levels from people working in the foundry itself up through its management. Unfortunately, Iowa Steel and Iron had to shut down during an economic downturn because they had vastly increased their output of iron just prior to a downturn in demand.


All other iron foundries in this area within driving distance also had to close, so Wyrick concentrated on making metal sculptures of bronze and brass. Wyrick developed an especially important and close relationship with American Bronze Casting in Osceola Wisconsin and its artist founder Wally Shoop and his sons, Wally and John.


Wyrick found American Bronze Casting, within easy driving distance in Wisconsin, as she was looking for the right foundry to do fine casting and custom work and to produce castings at predictable and reasonable costs in a timely manner.

Wyrick worked with several commercial foundries, including

Iowa Steel & Iron, Cedar Rapids, IA

Quality Foundry, Stockton, IA

MaxCast, Kalona, IA

ACI, Oregon, IL

American Bronze Casting, Osceola, WI



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