The pouring of a molten stream of 2200° F bronze into a mold drew "oohs" and "aahs" from an appreciative audience as they gathered to celebrate the aesthetic, educational, and economic potential of a new art foundry at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Valley art patrons recently joined UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and faculty, students and artists at "The Big Pour," where they were able to witness one step of a multi-level process to create a large metal sculpture made possible by the installation of the foundry equipment at UTPA.
"With this equipment we can teach our students the state-of-the-art technical end of metal casting," said Douglas Clark, a Master Sculptor who is a lecturer in UTPA's art department and a master of casting large bronzes. "This is as good as it gets in the United States anywhere. We have the capabilities to do any size sculpture or anything you can imagine right here in this foundry."
Clark's work, often done with assistance from UTPA art students, is on display at many Valley locations including all the life-size soldiers at the Veteran's War Memorial in McAllen.
The foundry equipment, valued at about $500,000, was donated by a foundry once located in Austin that moved to a maquila in Mexico but later closed when the company relocated to China. The University was able to purchase the equipment for $1, explained Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.
Wright, who is from Edinburg and a Big Pour sponsor, said she wanted to support the foundry so local students would not have to leave the Valley to have access to such a facility and training from experienced metal sculptors. She also touted its application to other disciplines such as engineering in making prototypes.
"We've got more talent here than you can imagine. There are so many students who don't get a chance, but if it is right here at the University, then they are going to get a chance," said Wright. "You know the next Rodin, Charles Russell or Michelangelo might be living around here."
Kirk Clark, a local car dealership owner, noted artist and also a Big Pour sponsor, called having a foundry the "tipping point" for an art department.
"The best is yet to come because the students are going to create artwork that is going to be memorable, it's going to put Pan Am on the map in a new and different way," Clark said.
Making an appearance on one of her first days on the job, new chair of the Department of Art Susan Fitzsimmons was excited about the foundry's potential to promote economic growth in the area. She described the effect of a foundry's location recently in a Colorado town.
"As a result of that casting facility, there was tremendous economic growth in the town. Artists came, moved there, cast their pieces there - it developed all these entrepreneurial kinds of connections for artists. I think we could do that here in Edinburg. I think we have real potential to develop that," she said.
Future plans by the University call for the entire art department, including the foundry, to move to the old Haggar (factory) Building located on Freddy Gonzalez Dr. in Edinburg, where UTPA's central receiving department is housed. This location will provide more space for graduate students to do their work and a better venue for exhibitions, Fitzsimmons said.
Guerra said more funding is needed to make the foundry fully operational but its addition to the art department makes it complete in the sense of offering all the arts.
"It is just a wonderful opportunity for our students at Pan Am," she said. "The donors are adding so much to the life of our students. They understand the value of art. They understand the value of merging life and learning and that is what our students are doing. It is an exciting moment for me to be able to bring all our visitors from the community here and show them the talent that exists on our campus."
For more information on how you can support the Department of Art, contact the UTPA Development Office at (956) 665-5301.