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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Melted Metal Therapy in Taos

“First Fire” is actually a Hopi tradition to start off their New Year, on or around winter solstice or as winter approaches. The fire is started, often, with flint and steel and is a very special event and time marker.  Up in Taos, at Taos Mesa Brewing, which lies between the Rio Grande Gorge bridge, a stunning, shocking bridge that puts you dramatically in the face of beauty and death, out in the middle of nowhere and the blinking light where you can turn left towards the bridge, straight towards Questa and San Louis and La Veta Pass or right towards the Sangre de Cristos and sacred Blue Lake.  The drive I took, with a big experiment; loading my bronze melting furnace and the equipment to pour bronze onto a small trailer, us hailing from Spirit Valley, New Mexico and me a little nervous about the great weight, the functionality of my brake lights and turn signals and the tire’s wear (as I had just recently resorted to taking the wheel and bearing off and taking a steel sleeve and a huge cheater pipe and bending the axle end straight after some event had bent in some time ago and worn down two sets of tires in short order).  I had promised to bring the furnace, forgetting how heavy it really was, despite being on wheels.  It was a gift from Harry Leippe, retired professor of sculpture and bronze casting down (or up, depending how you look at it) at Highlands, Las Vegas.  The furnace was built by a man named Jason who was a student of bronze and a stunningly gifted welder and the furnace and fan system was made over thirty years ago and had never been used since it was made and then given to me.  I have used it for pushing 10 years now, first creating an amazing solid bronze cast helical staircase and first floor balustrade with it and many other items, including a ceremonial bronze wedding bowl for my daughter when she got married.  We cast it with mostly family members during the profound storm in late December 2006 that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on us that night (adding to the 12” already on the ground) and casting it was amazing drama as snow glumps fell all around the crucible full of molten bronze metal. So there has been some drama around this and drama is nothing new for melting metal.

It took three hours to drive from Santa Fe to Taos Mesa, past Tres Piedras on the proud old highway called 285 (it goes on to Denver, Colorado, through some of the most beautiful mountain and passes in the world and is a great road to travel on).  To me it is as interesting and useful as Route 66 is touted; 800 some miles from Texas to Denver, going up from Clines Corners and about 2 miles from our ranch.

Once there, Taos Mesa Brewing is an exciting place, with the arched quansit roof, a new amphitheater of a sculptural nature, a sculpture garden that includes Thor’s Raven- “Conspiracy” (that’s the term for plural ravens!), horseshoe pit, outside tables, a huge white sculptural crane, a restaurant, stage and dance floor and a great view of the Sangres across the sagebrush laden plains.  There is something about the place that makes it really special and worth visiting.  That is just a side attraction for me, as there is so much going on for the pour that most of the surroundings are a bit of a blur.  This time there were 3 or 4 stations where wrought iron items were being created in small forges of various sorts, including an antique hand cranked forge.  The persons “manning” the forges were mostly women, as far as I could tell and they looked like they knew what they were doing;  BadAss Women all around this place; no place for discrimination or pre-judging who is capable of what, as those notions need to fall by the wayside.

Lance was there, from Hayes, Kansas, with his wild and cool trailer that holds his iron melting cupula furnace, tall when erected and capable of being  operated by one person (in a pinch), including an operating arm that holds the “ladle” (term to describe the “bucket” that carries and holds the molten cast iron, which consists of recycled cast iron shards that are created by breaking up old tubs, stoves, radiators….anything made of grey metal or cast iron….not “steel”, which melts at a higher temperature and is not “brittle” like cast iron).   Lance has attached all kinds of cast iron skeletal parts, skulls and such to his amazing ensemble of equipment and can also stand on the loading platform with his electric guitar and sing into a microphone attached to a rod welded to the furnace and play some “heavy (and loud) metal”, drowning out any other sounds until the mike gets so hot he has to step down and rethink the whole thing.  Up in Laramie a few months ago, at the Western Cast Iron Art Biennial, I had to fill in for him after the mike overheated and I plugged into his amp and jammed a shovel into the ubiquitous piles of sand nearby and sang into my “can” at full tilt, as I have done some at pours over the years.  It is best, for both of us, to have a full roar of blowers and furnaces and propane burning and activity to get the real effect of this experience.

                                                                                                                Lance Wadlow and his cupula rig

Aztec dancers and Fire Globe (left), amphitheater, Lance’s Furnace (with arm and skeleton), Sangre de Cristos and sand pile.

Out of the blue came Aztec Fire Dancers from Las Vegas onto the stage and danced up a storm just as Ben Remmers and I lit up his “Fire Globes” with a weedburner.  Lance was busy busting out some old unwanted material from the belly of his furnace and fine tuning everything and then lit the furnace as the crowds continued to watch in various stages of wonder.  I was asked to come up with a hook for Lance’s ladle and so I sidled over to the first blacksmithing woman I saw and Ben Remmers  (main coordinator for this event and a master pourer) cut a short piece of 3/8 steel and we heated it up and I made a hook on one end and a closed loop on the other and installed it on the spot.  Time wore on and people kept coming up to me and talking about how they worked at Shidoni  foundry at some point or are thinking about making a furnace, others chatted around with questions and David Lobdell , mentor to us all and head of the art department and iron and bonze caster extraordinaire, showed up with his “letters to the universe” installation which is a  rather large arch that he pumps propane into and it lights up and glows and can be fed wishes and thoughts on paper that burn up and enter into the multidimensional multiverse for processing of all sorts.  I was thinking about my great long-time friend getting a blood and stem cell transplant as we were busy pouring iron and praying, through these mediums, for her. 

Now the pour is in full swing and we have all hurriedly donned our protective gear: helmet and mask of wire mesh or vinyl, heavy gloves, leather jacket over cotton clothing, leather chaps and steel toed boots.  There is work to be done, in the dark except for a few little lights, a strobe light (new), a flashlight or two and the light of the molten iron in the ladle and now being poured into molds of all sorts or onto a performance piece of wood and other items (spraying sparks in an amazing dazzle of fire, showering us all in its display and creating a mixture of profound fear and eye opening excitement).

Ben’s Performance Piece

  The ladle is extra heavy and pouring less metal that usual, but we make do, doubling up on the handles and using every last ounce of strength and tolerance to get the job done.  Mistakes and disappointments need to move to the back burner as there is so much happening; there is no time or energy for that kind of extraneous foolishness.  The scene is like a shadow play as the ghosts move around in the dark doing their tasks with quiet determination and acting out a drama that is, in many ways, timeless, whether is it going in for the final kill in a hunt and doing the butchering and skinning; being in some aspect of a battle of some sort where life is on the line and things must be done; delivering a baby; sailing a ship in a storm…..but this is all to make art (performance or sculptural).
Then, in a new phase, the bronze furnace is lit (a few times to get the balance of air and fuel right, as the fan is blowing to increase the heat and the propane is added carefully).  Finally, after much adjustment and careful tending, there is a roar like a jet engine or a lion or a tornado (which it is in there) and bits of bronze get fed into the crucible and, after what seem like an eternity and on the brink of failure, the metal begins to pool.  Then the bronze is fed into the roaring hole and finally heats up to 2000 some degrees and the molds, which have been preheating in another furnace, are poured.  This is after the furnace is turned off, the roar is gone, a eerie silence prevails, a heat coming from the glowing crucible can cause a deer in the headlights affect because of it’s obvious power, the lifting tongs are dropped carefully onto the crucible and we now lift it above our heads to get it out and ease it onto the ground where another device for carrying and pouring is waiting.  It is attached with an arm that is supposed to hold the crucible tight and then the metal is “skimmed” with a steel implement and then we walk to the now ready molds and pour them, like water.  The pour is soon over, for better or worse and, in this case, a lot was poured onto the wood performance frame which is now covered with cast iron that is full of openings and interesting patterns.  Other molds are tended and then the crucible is scraped out and replaced for the next pour. 

Pouring Bronze from Thor’s furnace

It is now over and it is getting late and there is lots of work to do to clean up and pick up and disassemble and tie down.  I left by 10:30 with an eight food long mold with just enough metal poured onto it (this being a performance style open-faced piece) and another snake or buffalo gourd and cholla performance piece and got home by 4:30 that morning. 

This describes, briefly, some of the things that happen during an iron pour and what happened at the Iron Brew 2 pour in Taos on December 20, 2014.  I hope it helps or inspires other to understand or want to do something like this as it is a chance to put one’s mind and body and resources together and gaze into the depths of hell (although Dante’s Inferno is, actually, frozen) on a cold day where molasses flows slowly near January and see if this might just be the meditation and therapy the sorcerer ordered.   Happy Sparking !
Bronze Furnace

Here are the names of a few of the people involved in the pour:  David lobdell;Ivy Little,Justin Kaysing,Kim Henkel;Kyle Yonan, Lance Wadlow, Nicole Thibodeau, Thor Sigstedt<,
"Q", Jake Parison.
Dani Cedillo (fire dancer)


Monday, December 15, 2014


  And, as I got into the world of casting metal and iron, I could not help but notice the undying attention to skulls and skeletons and the hellish undercurrents that my fellow iron pourers can get deeply “in to”. Having just returned from the Western Cast Iron Art Biennial Conference in Laramie, Wyoming, all of that hell, fire and brimstone and skeletal imagery is still burned into my rusting psyche.....and.....IT"S (All in Good) FUN! Melting and pouring iron is a stunning way to get in touch with some primal parts of our beings and feel powerful and in awe at the same time. This is art where your life and your's and other's safety is on the line and when you come out the other end, there is a great sense of satisfaction that you have wrestled with the chthonic forces (look that up!).....and came out smelling like a rose...well...and some other strange smells, too. I am also impressed by the powerful women who work alongside us; carrying the ladles and pouring along with the best of us. And the chance to learn some forging skills; hammering steel (not iron) into all kinds of another wonderful thing and a super 'deal'!
  The other thing that I have noticed over the years of going to pours is that younger people and teenagers, who, I have noticed, are often in a sort of rebellious turmoil or are struggling with powerful forces that dip their toes into the bizarre, grotesque, angst and are sometimes lost and looking for some sources of power and pull.....they do really, really well and are "galvanized" and attracted and mesmerized by cast iron pours; the get into it in, what I think, is a good and healthy way and get lost in the trance of what is happening in front of them and, again, I think it is good therapy and to be encouraged for this age group.  Young kids like it too; where they can scratch something into a little open faced mold and come up with something they made out of heavy metal.  There is no substitute for "staring" into the face of molten metal as it is poured and starts cooling from deep read hot, pulsating and quivering heat into a dark very warm solid within a few minutes.  How cool is that!
...the other thing that is really great is that all of the mold making process is a chance to do all kinds of cross meridians brain work as you are going from positive to negative, upside down, mirror writing and all kinds of opportunities to view what you are doing from a different perspective, which can be a great benefit to one's ability to perceive ideas and different views.  the deal is; you have to do it in order to make these things and you pretty much have to visualize the fluid and other dynamics of pouring extremely hot metal into a vessel or mold and you need to think through what is going to happen in that process.
To top it off, the work that is being done to create your "art" is so physical and tangible and the effort is deeply involved in your muscles, your awareness of the things around you and the work that comes out of this process reeks of this deeply physical and the deep struggle (in a good sense) to create.  I like the feeling and the look of a piece of iron or steel or bronze that passes this struggle to create along with it to the viewer and appreciator.  Why not show the seams when you self create this that a commercial foundry, for instance, might have some problems with as they are so used to "chasing" the seamless creation and hide some of the most interesting aspects of artwork from self involved metal pouring.  ....something like that.....
So.....Happy Casting!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Recent work:


Read Meliss Lamberton (especially the end)

             It is very important to me that people begin to understand these discussions, as they dig deep into our culture, our ways of thinking and the projection into the future for us people.
The discussion about eradication of Russian olives (and tamarisk I am sure) in the Santa Fe River bed, Michael Smith and the city of Santa Fe is of great interest because sometimes the people who are thinking that they are doing so much good and are so determined to make the world pure and native are, sadly, xenophobic in nature, are not fully informed and are tilting at windmills  to change something back to a past condition that seems idyllic and perfect. It might be good to look at people who have a deep interest in the subject and actually know what they are talking about as we confront these decisions; to have diverse populations or follow eradication based groups that are needlessly fighting off change.  Take some out when necessary and leave some there and love them for what they really are. Please read this by Melissa Lamberton: 
    -from a recent submission for letters to the editor Santa Fe New Mexican
This person, Melissa Lamberton, speaks volumes in her understanding of the nature of eradication efforts and of the facts on the ground about these trees that are so much in the news and the stimulus, not by their wills of course, for large amounts of money and emotional energy to be passed around.  The need is for people to know the facts about these trees and get past the amazingly unfounded myths about them also.  I have researched this subject for quite a while now and have come to the exactly same conclusions as Melissa and so she speaks for me when she talks; as if we had been working together on this for years.  I also love her writing style and sense of place and fairness.  I hope that this information and these ideas take root! 
She also  has written other interesting pieces on cougars and mountain sheep.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Thor's Stones

As time passes and priorities and poetic and aesthetic values start to settle out into a sort of value hierarchy, a few things rise to the surface and stones are one of them.  Rocks are so stunning aesthetically and as something to contemplate that I have often thought that if they were not quite so prevalent, then just any single stone, put into a museum; would be the most modern and fantastic looking sculpture there.  I have collected rocks all of my life and now live along a creek with a bed of a wonderful and wide selection and collection of stones, giving a lifetime of pleasure to be a part of their world, so intimately involved in looking at them and working with them.  I recently carved a bathroom sink basin out of a plutonic rock from Spirit Valley; using diamond bits and blades and various hand and power tools to create a wonderful natural and functional piece.  I have found an ancient stone hatchet, which is a veritable combination tool; a mono, a hammer, a weapon; and it fits like a glove inside your grip.  Also I have found many arrow and spear  heads and a broken metate that I  found as I grabbed to use it as a shim for a concrete form only to notice that it was what it was.  A few days ago I was hiking up a steep embankment, rather cliff face and was with five friends who were also on the “game/wildlife/deer” trail  The going was difficult partly due to the steep incline and partly due to the ubiquitous sluffing-off sandstone in this area which created hazards because no hand or foot  hold felt all that safe.  We stopped on a  possibly nondescript spot halfway up and I looked down and I noticed a beautiful reddish and tan, sort of oval and convex domed river rock sunken into the soil, and  I immediately excavated few inches of soft earth around it with my hands to reveal the full dome of the stone.  I lifted it up carefully only to discover that there was a healthy herd of ants, large and fast and sort of what I call “honey ants”, under it, so I let it back down, saying, “I love this unusual stone that, to me, obviously, was brought here and I will pick it up on the way back and take it home.  My comrades, of course, heard me say this and we had a brief discussion about me doing that and the nature of the stone, being a beautiful “river rock”.  We poked around the top of the ridge and what I found was an awesome, large, flat rectangular stone shelf on the top of the ridge furnished with a small sandstone wedge propped horizontal to create a small low bench and next to it a sort of domed table like stone that had cracked in half and had a few rocks on top of it and this stone had  some very indistinct etching of initials on it.  As we reached the mid point of our descent from this historic ridge, I heard two voices ahead of me simultaneously exclaim, “It’s a metate!”  I walked down towards them and there they were holding “my stone” that I had vowed to pick up and carry back if we came that way, having turned it over now and, surely, it was a beautiful, obvious concave surface worn by many years of use and smooth and beautiful.  I held it and someone said, “There should be a mono right here too” and so we glanced around and , sure enough, there was a beautiful mono in the midst of a number of similar sized stones on the slope at my feet.   This was an amazing experience for all of us!

To cap this story off, there is another one wrapped into that day’s adventure: at the crest of this hill was a crag which had the distinct shape of an Indian’s head, we thought.  This was our original goal to attain and so I and Alan headed right up to the top of it.  The crag was narrow and not ample for walking around, but good enough to navigate carefully.  I turned towards Alan just as he was leaping across an abyss/crevasse and I was so frightened by what I saw; his profound danger as he lept; that I called out to him, “Oh man, watch out”!   He just made the leap and I was profoundly relieved as I was envisioning a disaster up there.  I went around that spot, not daring to jump it myself and approached him as he was on his hands and knees looking at something.  I came closer and he was just beginning to pick up turquoise stones.  He explained that he jumped the crevasse and then, landing, he saw turquoise on the ground and was thinking, ‘Puebloans have been up here’.  Then he realized they were the stones from his own turquoise necklace which must have burst open during his daring leap and fell to the ground in front of him.  We talked as we picked them out of the prickly pear cactus and the little cracks and the soil and he talked about his Navajo old woman elder friend who had stated to him some years ago, when he was bemoaning having broken a turquoise jewelry piece, in her quiet older voice, hushed, “…oh no, it is good to have it break and to wear your turquoise because it is, as it breaks, saving you from some disaster or other!”  We now understood that some powers may have been at work here, just as she had said.  A little later Alan and I decided to go back up that crag for another excusion, by impulse, and I saw him bend down and pick up another piece of turquoise.  It had fallen out of his pocket when he had descended earlier and would have been there for ages had we not had the impulse to go back up this round-about way!  Hmmm…..

So I am hoping that these stone stories and their shadows and beauty and power will assist us in our search for meaning to our lives and as we sort out our priorities.


May 2, 2014   Thor V Sigstedt    Spirit Valley,  New Mexico  along Galisteo Creek

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Love Nature......or "Cheep Trills"


Often we hear that expression, 'I love nature',  and it rings true despite the ‘cruelty’ of predation, the devastation of ‘acts of nature’ like earthquakes or mudslides and the occasional slaps in the face of branches, bites of spiders and other inconveniences like the cold or heat or dog bites or chickens pecking and eating each other.  I love sunsets and the glint of the sun on water, the textures of rocks and dead trees and the stars and the beauty of life forms walking around, the sleekness of a cougar and the oddity of a buffalo, the attraction of a buffalo gourd and just walking around in ‘it’; feeling the breeze, feeling the earth sponge beneath my feet, getting the compositions of the players (the twigs and flowers and branches and sky and algae and grasses and light and leaves and the smells and a bird or two)  in nature all commingling together .  The last few days sort of snuck up on me this time, though and kind of forced me to look and then think (god forbid).

What happened was: well, first I went into a wilderness park with my grandchildren and walked deep into it and was on a crest that actually had a bench way up there (despite being in the wilderness)and so we stopped and sat and snacked.  I heard the sound that I know is turkeys off in the woods and they did not stop, so I loosened up my lips and sort of hummed out of them while shaking my head side to side frantically while my lips banged wildly against themselves and made a credible gobble.  The turkeys in the woods responded, then moved closer, then came into a clearing and every time I ‘gobbled’, they did back and then a male framed himself perfectly in my view and spread out his feathers in full display; a perfect snapshot of the situation and then walked out of view just as I got the camera out.  Then we went to the ocean briefly, a bit of a drive, and there we were in deep profound nature and waves crashing on the rocky shore and on rock islands in full view displaying Victoria fall effects as the water subsided from the rock face after the crashes and with a sea gull standing stoicly and  close to me on top of the rock, never moving despite the uncomfortable conversational distance boundaries that I have known for them,  as I climbed a boulder island shelf  to experience the experience with Torsten, the 1 year old grandson.  I took  many pictures only to discover later that I had taken the memory card out to download into my computer earlier and forgot to replace it. 

Upon returning to Spirit Valley and Santa Fe, I walked outside in the middle of the night to grab some more firewood as I had run low in the house, having mostly smaller sticks to burn as the winter is mostly over and the trip to California had disrupted my gatherings and cuttings.  I had seen a full moon through the bathroom glazing earlier so I glanced up to see where it was out there in the later night sky and all I saw was a dull blood red moon that had the appearance of a moon in smog in the city.  It took some adjusting time but then I decided that I was looking at a full eclipse and so I gazed for a while and went back in only checking it out they way we do these days and , sure enough, what I experienced was what I thought it was. 

Earlier that day I had been down by the creek and there was a lot of algae due to the constant lowish flow of the water and the nutrients in the creek and the warmish weather we had been experiencing.  I decided to touch it and then move the slippery glumps from a waterfall-like spot and clear it out and threw it up on the bank where I considered that it might make better soil up there and promote stabilization.  I poked around and looked at the willows  I had jammed into the rivers bank in an area that had been devastated by a large flood and lost a lot of the cut bank and I wanted them to grow and stabilize, again, that area.  I found some alive and swollen with life and ready to bud and leaf and I was happy about that.

Then I was called for jury selection in town and I was somewhat conflicted as I got into my recently deceased mother’s old Toyota Tercel, blue, that I had decided looked more artistically and philosophically interesting if it had a simple old rack of aluminum clamps and barnwood 2 x 4s and some steel  pipes stubbed on it and a large interesting rustic weathered root/tree branch affair with lots of interest and legs and curves and sculptural qualities that I had extricated from a spot up near Montezumas Castle along the Gallina River in Las Vegas; exercising what I call “artist’s license”’; a self- proclaimed right to do just what I was doing.  I got into the rig knowing that it was somewhat inconsistent with the mainstream situation of being on a jury in a courtroom downtown; I still have ambivalence and some shame about the vehicle due to its age, its wear, it lack of moderness.  It has the same qualities that an old dead tree has and that the root on top of it has; the feeling you have when you look at a very old person; a combination of repulsion and attraction to the process that is right in front of you.  My art, as an artist, often deals with this subject; the texture of life in its less than slick moments, often, reflecting the question; what is nature, what is death, what is old age and how can I relate in various ways.  I am not sure it is cutting edge, but, depite the uneasiness I feel; it is what I do.  It has to do with honesty and staring into the face of nature in its less glorious but perhaps more profound ‘wabi sabi’ moments.  The car runs well and gets good mileage and is a pleasure to drive, so I take it out often, despite the cringing feelings  and shame I also have.  I think I got out of jury duty because of the same peripatetic overly circumspect nature that I have and I could not quite grasp that I would be judging something with the limitation that I would not know what the penalty for the crime being examined was; I could put a heroin addict, if he was one, in jail when he should probably be in a situation that addressed his addiction more fruitfully.  There were quite a few others who felt the way I did and it was a great education for me. 

I walked back to the parking garage with a friend of mine from my early recovery from alcohol addiction, from some 20 years ago and then I remembered that I think I owed him a lunch from back in those days, so I invited him to the Bite to satisfy that old debt.  I got into the car and headed for the cafĂ© which was maybe 4 to 6 blocks away and I heard what sounded like the flap of a strap on the roof of the car and I was puzzled because I study the nature of materials as an artist and a craftsperson and as most people do, actually, and I had a hard time identifying this sporadic sound situation.  It did not sound like there was an immediate cause for concern and might be a bungee cord that had gotten loose and was knocking around some in the breeze of the motion.  I got out and then there it was; a pigeon was face to face with me and I could see its toes tapping on the roof as it walked towards the edge and we were locked in the moment in something that I found interesting, especially in the category of the love of nature.  It walked towards me from under the sticks then lept off the blue sedan into the blue sky without an further ado.  Of course, I did not have time to get a picture, again.  I did though, this morning, as I prepared mentally to go back to the shop and start carving the panel I am making for some furniture, for the door, cause she wanted, perhaps, a bird on a twig and I had drawn the twigs and branches and pine needle motif and the birds there, based on one (a little sort of curved billed thrasher) I had cast in cast iron a while back, but it looked too small, I thought the other day.  So now, with the help of this event, I found what I was going to carve on the door; a pigeon; my new friend  in town…..and commemorate our journey from the county court house to the desert inn.