Holdfasts Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark
Holdfasts displays a small sample of the many patterns located at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Until May 2015, these patterns were piled together in a small room between the Blowing Engine Room and Powerhouse. Prior to that, they gathered dust on shelves in various warehouses and factories that were once the driving force behind Birmingham’s cast iron and steel industry. The recent uncovering of these patterns is exciting and important for the continuation of history from throughout the region.
A central component to the iron casting process is the pattern, an object used to create a negative cavity into which iron is poured for a final, usable part. What you see here would be the final product but in iron. In every way, the pattern is a means to an end, not a product itself. The patternmaker must take a concept or two-dimensional drawing and, knowing the intricacies of the casting process, create a pattern that is efficient and reusable for as many times as needed. Excellent woodworking skills are an obvious necessity for the patternmaker including knowledge of wood species, tools, joinery and all stages in between. The pattern is at the very core of the iron casting process both literally and figuratively.
It can be argued favorably that art is the process of creation itself, the art object being the end product for admiration. Consequently, the remnants of the creative process are often cast aside with little value associated to them. Whether these are notes, sketches, or failed attempts, the artifacts are insightful. They reveal aspects of the struggle, trials, and errors of an individual turning concept into material existence. In addition to the final object, the combination of this information allows the alchemical nature of an artist to be better understood.
With these two concepts in mind, the patterns are no longer a means to an end and are recognized as objects for admiration. From the mundane and utilitarian, the patterns are repositioned from the periphery of the iron casting process and history to hold a place of prominence all on their own. It is intended, through the rediscovery of the patterns, to draw more interest in Sloss, Birmingham’s history and the artistic processes, especially the methods of casting and contemporary art.
Thank you to all of the staff at Sloss while working on the exhibition, especially Curator Karen Utz and Artists-in-Residence Ajene Williams and John Stewart Jackson during the research and installation. Artist-in-Residence Marshall Christie deserves my extended gratitude for assisting in both design and fabrication of the hanging system used in addition to his overall support. Once again, Birmingham and Sloss proved to be a very pleasant experience.
Jake Weigel is Lecturer of Sculpture and Director of the Nancy Fyfe Cardozier Gallery at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas. He writes for International Sculpture Center and other publications in addition to curatation and exhibiting his personal art.