Martha’s Vineyard enters the Iron Age

Lloyd Mandelbaum, of Chicago Crucible, tests to see if the iron is hot enough to pour. — Photo by Michael Cummo

An iron pour is pretty much what it sounds like: Iron is melted and poured. But it is also a party, a festival-cum-exhibition, where a flock of brightly-clad young artists prepare a furnace for iron to be superheated to 3,000 degrees and poured into forms. As it cools and sets, the iron gains a new shape and life, in this case as works of art.

On Saturday, Sept. 20, Featherstone Center for the Arts hosted an outdoor iron event which was a triumph of Vineyard people and spirit, and a welcoming of an historic art form with the grandest festival style.

The human fulcrum of the event was Kate Medeiros, 25, of Vineyard Haven, Mocha Mott’s, and the world.

Kate, with dancing eyes and unflappable goodwill, left the Island in 2007 for Illinois and her next educational step, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There she learned the ferric arts and made a carnival of lively friends, then brought 10 of them back to her home Island for Saturday’s pour.

The team of iron men and maidens, with a following of fans, friends, and photographers, camped in Kate’s parents’ yard, and spent four days to construct a furnace from recyclings — based on what appeared to be a vintage water heater — and also built an entirely functional foundry to lay the groundwork for future pours. This includes the furnace, its stand, fabricated furnace tools, a mold system (sodium silicate–bonded sand molds), and the infrastructure for it to grow. In another area of prep work, the team managed blanks for sand castings, so civilian participants could make their own castings. Kate opened her Island to this bandannaed and tie-dyed flock of ethereal blacksmiths, AKA metallurgists.

A staple of the pour, and others around the country, is raw materials. Saturday’s heat exchange required roughly 1,500 pounds of iron, including some 15 radiators, three sinks, and as many bathtubs. Kate, as the point person on all this, saw to the gathering of the metal to recycle, often calling on her old pal Julius Lowe of West Tisbury, who works with his uncle Erik as Lowe Energy Design, Inc., to come up with restoration iron ready for a new life transplant.

Of course, the molten event in the backyard of Featherstone was a virtual party, what the old hippies here would have called “a happening.” There were the gang from Chicago, their asides, families, interested locals, and the simply curious. It had some of the flair, if you will, of Burning Man, the mood of a nondelusional Woodstock, and a core of quilting bee and art trouvé.

Kate, whose finished art can be seen at, conceived of the project, emailed everyone, hired the hall, then secured the special refined coal — also known as coke — needed for such Vulcan procedures from Pennsylvania. She also saw to it that the Oak Bluffs Fire Department was on hand to cover any unlikely mishaps, and even drummed up entertainment to complete the everything-but-food picnic. It’s the Vineyard; we needed music.

Again, her friend Julius Lowe and his uncle Erik, who both just happen to be top-flight musicians, jammed on their guitars with a light electrical assist from atop a grassy knoll, while iron and celebrants awaited nightfall to change.

So while purposeful strides bounded around the fire site, Mara Goldfine, 22, of Wayland and the Chicago art mob, was casting her pieces of anatomically-interpretive crossed legs. The daughter of two doctors, she creates art of human derivation which stands alone as installation. Her finished art can be seen at

As the carefully closed-off furnace area buzzed with increasing activity, the sun moved lower in the sky, and an array of carvers sat around the Featherstone yard, some under a reception tent, and marked their sand molds to later receive iron.

An Edgartown father-and-daughter team carved their silica forms, eventually to be cast in molten metal. Steve Correll, a handsome carpenter, and his magnificent daughter Jade sat under a tree at a picnic table using sculpting tools to shape their sand forms. The two obviously got along, and were not competing with their art but also mildly private about their progress.

The two-piece bowl Jade designed would be coated with a powdered graphite and alcohol mixture, which serves to figuratively “grease the pan” so that molten metal does not adhere to the silica forms.

The sand-based casts are water-soluble, to vanish into nature after their purpose is done. Thus, this entire exercise revives junk and kisses the environment, besides being a vivid, cheer-evoking spectator sport.

The preparations began early last week, and a minimal percent of the Island population had ever seen anything like this before. The furnace was created, fodder gathered, and ferric friends proceeded to operate their machine. The fires and spirits were lit, but it all led up to darkness. The actual pouring would come after sundown, for the full spectacular effect.

Visually, it appeared to be a scaled-down version of a Hawaiian lava run funneled into the castings, which were allowed to cool until noon the following day. At that time the gear and belongings were packed up, new and seasoned artists took their sculptures and castings, and the party was temporarily over.

Martha’s Vineyard has basked in the splendid metal artwork of T. Whitney Hanschka, Barney Zeitz, and Tom Carberry; the Travis Tuck tradition lives on through Anthony Holand,  but this was a first for take-your-kid-to-the-foundry-shop-day, where average folks got to rejoin the Iron Age. Kate Medeiros said there would most likely not be another pour until winter had passed, but that whenever one of them sent out the call, the rest of the squad would show up, bringing their protective goggles and fire-retardant suits … oh, and the tie-dyed tees.

Kate said, ”This is the first annual Iron on the Island. I am fully intending to re-create and expand this event each year.” She added, “Taking the time between events is necessary in order to properly prepare, as well as secure a proper crew to put on such a thorough and spectacular event.”

Kate concluded, “We are professional metal casters who operate these tools to create and expand our personal art practices on a daily basis, as well as providing the opportunity for every individual to be exposed to a new medium that has such a grand history.”

 Anyone with questions or comments about the first annual event, or upcoming events, is welcome to email Kate at