Minturn Middle students learn a lost art |

Minturn Middle students learn a lost art

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
HL iron workshop 1 KA 12-02-08

MINTURN, Colorado ” Confronted with a circular piece of wax, students at Minturn Middle School seemed suspicious.

“It looks like a big, old Reeses,” 14-year-old Stephen Hines observed.

With scalloped edges like a peanut butter cup, the wax was the color of dark chocolate but far from the same texture.

Told to warm it with their hands and shape it into sculptures, the students discovered how stubborn cold wax can be.

“Ow! This is really hard,” said 11-year-old Nayeli Garcia, who was trying to shape the wax into the word “baby.”

With a little patience ” and the help of a bucket of warm water for soaking the wax ” students soon warmed up to the idea of making sculptures. The wax was part of an iron sculpting workshop at the school on Tuesday.

Come late January, students will see the shapes they made filled with molten, 3,000-degree iron in the middle of Vail Village.

Artist Mark Guilbeau whipped out his iPhone to show students a video of what metal pouring looks like.

“It’s actually on fire! You can see the flames!” 13-year-old Jake Cummings cried.

The ancient “lost wax technique” of iron sculpting starts with forming a figure with wax. Artists create a mold around the wax by dipping the wax in a ceramic that looks like thick paint. The mold goes in an oven, where the ceramic withstands the heat but the wax melts out of the mold through a funnel. Finally, artists pour molten iron into the mold to make a sculpture.

By the end of the workshop at Minturn Middle, students were admiring one another’s wax sculptures. Sixth-grader Mason Vance made an intricate skiing figuring.

“Dude! How did you do that?” Cummings said, admiring the skier.

Cummings immediately abandoned his plans to make a “Native American action warrior dude.”

“Now I’m making a skier like he is because he inspired me,” Cummings said.

For the second year in a row, local schools welcomed iron sculpting workshops into the classroom. Along with Minturn Middle School, workshops took place this week at Vail Mountain School, Red Sandstone Elementary and Battle Mountain High School. Guilbeau, 48, an Asheville, N.C. artist who led the program at Minturn Middle School, says he wants to show kids that melting metal can be just as exciting as football and baseball. Exposing students to techniques like iron pouring is critical at a time when schools are curtailing their art programs, Guilbeau said.

“It’s not just art, it’s creativity that’s being cut,” he said. “To me, it’s very important and critical to understanding the world and our place in it.”

Guilbeau will be among a group of about a dozen artists who are performing metal-pouring demonstrations next month near the International Bridge in Vail. The artists are professional iron sculptors from across the country.

Funding for the program comes from the Town of Vail’s Art in Public Places program. Leslie Fordham, coordinator for the program, said she witnessed Battle Mountain High School students create impressive sculptures on Tuesday.

“I think it’s a great confidence builder,” she said. “Yes you might not always be pleased with what you’ve done, but what I saw the kids do was amazing. I think that could build your confidence and self esteem.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

Support Local Journalism