Sculpture Trails: Solsberry’s International Melting Pot

If you’re an artist who makes cast iron sculpture, you can’t just do it anywhere.

  • barn in vignette

    Image 1 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    A sculpture by Gerry Masse perches on the hill above the foundry.

  • sculpturegarden1

    Image 2 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    A cast iron sculpture along the trail.

  • sculpturegarden3

    Image 3 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    One of the sculptures installed in the outdoor museum.

  • sculpturegarden2

    Image 4 of 12

    Photo: Yaël Ksander

    A cast-iron arch nestled in the wooded sculpture park.

  • furnace, gantry, aeriel view

    Image 5 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Sculpture Trails' foundry and gantry is located downhill from the sculpture park.

  • burn-in, gerry, nathan

    Image 6 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Gerry Masse (left) and Nathan Goodson (right) stoke the furnace for the evening pour.

  • suited up, listening

    Image 7 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Getting suited up in leathers and protective headgear, the crew awaits instructions about the iron pour.

  • readyforfire

    Image 8 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Sculpture Trails' founder and director Gerry Masse (right) assigns roles to the crew in the moments before the iron pour.

  • devin, nathan

    Image 9 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Crew members monitor the furnace, which has been burning coke and scrap metal for the hour before the pour.

  • firing the ladle

    Image 10 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The ladle used to convey the molten metal from the furnace to the moulds must be heated to the same temperature as the iron.

  • the pour

    Image 11 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    "The minute you see the molten metal tapped from the furnace," avers sculptor Kate Hobby, "it’s like falling in love with the sun."

  • fire_at_night_1

    Image 12 of 12

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The crew pours molten metal from the ladle to one of many resin-bonded sand moulds lined up for tonight's casting.

One of the largest iron foundries for artists in the Midwest is located in—of all places—Solsberry, Indiana, in rural Greene County. The facility provides not only the means to cast iron sculpture, but also the opportunity for an international set of iron artists to work together, and a place for them to display their work.

A Backwoods Sculpture Garden

On sixty acres located far off the beaten track, nestled among trees and rock formations, is a sequence of large, mostly abstract iron sculptures. Gerry Masse opened the Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum on his family’s land in Greene County, Indiana in 2002.

“At first it was just an outdoor museum, a place where we could put our pieces,” Masse explained. “With big sculpture, once it goes into a show and comes out of a show, where do you put it? That was kind of the idea.”

But the concept grew beyond just providing exhibition space.

Back To Iron’s Cradle

Back in the summer of 2001, Jack Gron, Masse’s mentor from his graduate program at the University of Kentucky, recruited him to build an iron foundry at the Museum of Steel Sculpture in Coalbrookdale, England, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution.

“My museum is located where cast iron work began,” notes Pam Brown, the museum’s co-founder and director. “It was marvelous for me when I found that there were these American sculptors who knew how to cast iron.”

After building Brown’s furnace, Masse started running an annual workshop at the museum: For nine years, Masse’s crew spent four weeks each summer teaching a group of mainly British artists to cast iron. When Brown decided to retire from hosting the workshop in England in 2010, she asked Masse to take it over. The decision to accept led him back to the sixty-acre site in south-central Indiana, where he’d set up the outdoor museum in 2002.

The Workshop Goes Stateside

“As soon as we said we’d take it over,” Masse recalls, “we got back here and realized we had nothing—no foundry, no studio, nothing.”

So Masse quickly built a furnace—the Lady D, dedicated to his mother Diane—and hosted Sculpture Trails’ first workshop in July 2010. “The reaction was just unbelievable,” Masse remembers. “We had no idea anyone would care, and the response from the community was enough to get us to go ‘man!’”

That response was evident in the size of the crowd that showed up for the Fire at Night Iron Pour on July 23, an opportunity to watch the artists cast their pieces.

Community enthusiasm might also be gauged by its patronage. Last year 1,400 people from the area paid twenty dollars apiece to carve small blocks to be cast into low relief aluminum sculptures for each donor to keep. Having now obtained nonprofit status, the facility is also able to accept donations through the Indiana Arts Commission.

But Sculpture Trails has gotten its name out far beyond the state.

The Global Iron Community

“I come up here for the juice,” reveals Nathan Goodson, “for the energy.” A renowned iron sculptor from Alabama, Goodson got his chops as a shop technician at Sloss Furnaces, the historic foundry that built the city of Birmingham.

“I could go over to Sloss and cast all the time, but instead, I’ll drive nine and a half hours and spend the whole month of July to make art here. I really appreciate who Gerry knows and who he attracts.”

“You get more done in two weeks here than in months in the studio,” concurs London-based sculptor Richard Rome, “because it’s a very special situation. There’s a bunch of great people, lots of help, and real camaraderie.” A Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors and the Royal College of Art, Rome met Masse when he was running the workshop in England.

The Fire At Night

On the evening of the big iron pour, after the furnace has been burning coke and scrap metal for an hour, and just moments before molten iron starts pouring out the slag holes at the bottom of the tower, Masse assembled the group in a huddle for final instructions.

“It’s a matter of safety at all times,” Masse explaind. “So there’s a crew chief, and a furnace chief, and they communicate with each other. And we also have a mould chief, who knows what is inside of every one of these moulds, and how much metal goes into each one. “

Among the crew, who are suited up in leather smocks, chaps, and fireproof helmets, are eight work-study interns, students and professional artists who have come to trade their labor for experience and an affordable means to cast their sculpture. This year, it happens that six of the eight interns are female. But traditional gender roles don’t gain much purchase around here.

“It’s about learning and sharing,” said Kate Hobby, a professional artist from England in the work-study program. “So, for example, today I’m working with Gerry on the furnace, but yesterday it was Alison, and the day before that it was Toby.”

It might seem puzzling that someone would travel so far to spend an entire month in the middle of nowhere hauling metal and hovering around a furnace in the summer sun. But “the minute you see the molten metal tapped from the furnace,” Hobby rhapsodizes, “it’s like falling in love with the sun.”

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

View all posts by this author »

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Indiana Public Media Arts & Music:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

Search Arts and Music

Stay Connected

RSS e-mail itunes Facebook Twitter Flickr YouTube

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Indiana Public Media Arts & Music:

Recent Visual Arts Stories

Visual Arts Events RSS icon

More Events »Submit Your Event »

Arts & Music is on Twitter

Find Us on Facebook

This Week on Earth Eats

Why Isn’t My Hen Laying Eggs?

hen in her coop with egg

There are many things that can cause a hen to stop laying eggs, from the weather to an illness. Here are the most common problems to help you troubleshoot.

Read more »

Earth Eats is a podcast, radio program and blog of the freshest news and recipes inspired by local food and sustainable agriculture.

More from Earth Eats »

This Week on Focus on Flowers

World Association Of Flower Arrangers

WAFA flower arrangement

Ireland concluded its tenure as the WAFA host country after the June 2014 flower show, and Barbados has begun its three year term.

Read more »

Focus on Flowers is a weekly program about flower gardening hosted by master gardener Moya Andews.

More from Focus on Flowers »