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Curator's Statement

Exhibit Introduction from the Curator

Nearly 400 years after an unknown iron worker placed a mold in the sand at the base of the blast furnace to catch the molten iron, students from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design are using the same medium to demonstrate what iron can do as an art form when freed from functional constraints. In this exhibition, one idea these young artists are exploring is that of contradiction; iron as bone conveys both the brittleness and strength of cast iron, while other sculptors meditate on weight, either in the form of items that are meant to buoy us up but instead here drag us down, or figures that appear ready to float or leap, ignoring the weight of their own materials. Other artists cast their contradiction in terms of value, asking the viewer to think about what makes something valuable, whether it be jewels, food, or an entire industry. Finally, the series of plaques created to answer the sentence “I Cast Iron Because . . .” reflects the many ways that these students ended up in front of the furnace and asks us to think about why we engage in our interests and passions.

Originally intended to be an installation at Saugus Iron Works, this exhibit moved online in response to the pandemic crisis and could not have been done without the cooperation of Marjee-Anne Levine, Visiting Lecturer in Sculpture at MassArt. We look forward to seeing more of her students’ work in the future.

Emily Murphy Ph.D.
Curator, Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

A cast iron fireback hung on fireplace meant to protect bricks from heat.
Fireback made at Hammersmith (Saugus Iron Works), 1656. Cast Iron, 54 cm x 85 cm x 3.6 cm. National Park Service Collections, SAIR 12322. Firebacks were mounted on the back wall of the fireplace to protect the bricks from heat.

NPS Photo/Edward Hunter

Cast Iron at Saugus Iron Works (Hammersmith)

The most decorative objects produced at Saugus Iron Works in the mid-17th century were the firebacks, iron panels mounted on the back of a fireplace to protect the bricks from the heat of the fire. These panels often had the date of their casting, the initials of their owners, and raised decorations that echoed the designs on furniture and other decorative arts of the period.

This cast iron fireback was made at Hammersmith (Saugus Iron Works) in 1656. It has raised decorations of columns and circles, the same type of decoration that would be seen on the carved furniture of the period.

Last updated: March 8, 2021