Nov. 7—Heather Humbert reproduced a sycamore leaf, J. D. Peterson carved an image of a hummingbird and Karen Shade embellished the first initial of her granddaughter's name.
The women were among Sunday visitors to Greensburg's Westmoreland Museum of American Art who saw their creations captured as one-pound squares of textured cast aluminum during a hot metal pour activity. Cnc Pocket Milling
"It turned out pretty cool," Humbert, a Carnegie elementary art teacher, said of her leaf design. "It's backwards from how I was thinking in my head, but I like it.
"I usually work flat, so 3-D is different. You have to think about it differently. Watercolor is one of my most favorite mediums."
A crew from the historic Rivers of Steel site in Homestead poured molten aluminum into hardened sand molds bearing designs carved out by program participants using various tools, including dental instruments. Participants were advised that letters, numbers and other figures must be shaped backward in order to appear correctly in the cast piece.
Peterson, an artist, writer and singer-songwriter from Harrison City, was familiar with creating designs in a mirror image.
"I have done printmaking," she said. "It's the same principle, reversing the image."
A Monroeville native, Peterson recently returned to Western Pennsylvania after living in Philadelphia and then California.
The hummingbird mold she created was inspired by a batik piece she's preparing as a gift for a friend in California. She explained batik uses applications of wax to determine where different colors will appear on a fabric canvas.
After completing a border of rose, lily and leaf patterns around the hummingbird, Peterson began scratching out a circular shape she noted might become a moon.
"I don't want a lot of empty space," she said. "I keep trying to put in more detail."
Rivers of Steel hosts cast iron pours at its Carrie Furnaces, a former site of steel-making. But aluminum casting is easier to take on the road.
To create cast aluminum pieces, the metal is melted by heating it to 1,200 degrees in a portable crucible furnace using propane and forced air, according to Chris McGinnis, director and chief curator of Rivers of Steel Arts.
The aluminum "cools down pretty quickly to about 1,000 degrees as they start to pour it," he said. "After about five minutes, it's cooled down enough that they can handle it. They'll quench it in water just to speed up the cooling process."
In contrast, McGinnis said, iron casting requires about 2,600 degrees of heat and coking coal for the furnace. "It's easier to show people the excitement, the danger, the heat, and also the beauty of it," he said.
Those attending the museum event also were able to inspect a Kevlar uniform and other gear used by blast furnace crews. The items were presented and modeled by JaQuay Edward Carter, a historian and interpretive specialist with Rivers of Steel.
The event was supported by the Westmoreland County Local Arts Grant Program.
Shade learned of Sunday's event through her membership in the museum. She traveled from her Apollo home, bringing along granddaughter Ruthie Ella Shade, 11, also of Apollo. The girl carved her mold with a tree design meant to evoke the four seasons and inscribed her name in reverse around the edge.
Karen Shade created her aluminum piece as a gift for the girl's sister, 9-year-old Penny, who couldn't come.
"Hopefully, she'll be excited by it," said Karen Shade, who noted she grew up surrounded by Pittsburgh's steel mills. "Now it seems like steel mills are few and far between, so this is really a nice opportunity for people to see this industry."
Mould Maker Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .