Molding young minds
By ANGIE HAFLICH
DEERFIELD — Deerfield High School students had the opportunity to learn about another type of art medium Wednesday — aluminum casting — thanks to their art teacher, the Fort Hays State University sculpture professor and two of his students, who brought the college's mobile foundry to the school.
Deerfield High School art teacher Dustin Rorabaugh first had his students carve out molds of a design they chose weeks before.
"They had to come up with a drawing, and then they had to think about carving it in because when they pour the aluminum in. It's going to be reverse, so the farther you dig down, that's what's going to stand out," Rorabaugh said.
On Wednesday, Toby Flores, sculpture instructor at FHSU, brought his aluminum casting equipment to the Deerfield students. That included scrap aluminum, a crucible or furnace, in which to melt the aluminum, as well as special tools designed for his owns students, Isaac Sandoval and Brianne Nelson, to use to pick up the fiery hot furnace when it came time to pour the liquidated aluminum into the molds.
The furnace is designed to melt aluminum using forced air and propane, heating it to 1,212 degrees Fahrenheit. This required Flores, Sandoval and Nelson to wear heavy-duty clothing that resembled firefighter gear.
"We'll melt it a little bit more, then we'll bring the crucible out and it goes into a shank. Some have been poured already," Flores said. "The kids made some beautiful molds — all kinds of stuff. They were all given the same tools, but every one is a little bit different."
The molds included a bat, a Spartan helmet, a bear, Buddha and several abstract pieces carved into sand blocks, also provided by FHSU. Genevieve Goudy, 17, created a mold of a fairy sitting on a crescent moon.
"It was very cool to do. It was kind of frustrating to have to dig at it," Goudy said, adding that it took about two weeks of sculpting. "It's got to be all level and all smooth so you don't have weird parts where the metal comes out."
She also said it was a nice change of pace from the norm.
"Mr. Rorabaugh has done a really good job of finding what projects he can for not a lot of money," Goudy said.
After the liquid aluminum was poured into her mold, it took only 20 minutes for it to cool and harden. The result was a reverse image of the fairy.
The students used everyday household items, such as nails, butter knives and spoons, as well as drill bits, to carve out their creations.
Devin Oberembt, 13, described himself as "lucky," because the student who molded the Buddha gave it to him.
"I didn't know when aluminum got all bunched together, it would be this heavy," Oberembt said, as he watched more liquefied aluminum being poured into a mold. "It smells like old firecrackers. Like when they go off, the smoke comes at you — it smells like that."
Deerfield High School Principal Nathan Reed said that with cuts to the art budget, they try to find mediums other than drawing or painting, for the kids to experiment with.
"I think it's great. It's a new medium for the kids to try out," Reed said. "Mr. Rorabaugh is very good about finding things for the kids that they really get into."
Both Rorabaugh and Reed credited Flores and FHSU for traveling to the school, free of charge.
"A lot of money is being cut from the arts, so a lot of these students in these little towns that we go to don't have access to stuff like this, so we're able to do it, and we don't charge anything so that the kids get to experience sculpture, because a lot of times they're drawing and painting and that kind of stuff, so it's kind of cool to bring that to the kids," Flores said. "We get to spend the day here, get to know the town and the kids, so it's really cool."
Flores said they take the mobile foundry all over the state and into Colorado and Nebraska, as well.
Reed said that both Lakin and Holcomb schools were invited to attend, but schedule conflicts and uncertainty about the weather prevented them from joining in.