Purchase photos

Sparks fly amid the storm





Nature added elements of drama to Friday night's Western Cast Iron Arts Conference performance pour. But, for die-hard heavy metal artists, the pour went on.

"We survived," recent Fort Hays State University art graduate Stacey Rathert said. "(Stormy weather) was all around us.

"Rain or shine, we still pour."

More than 100 spectators and artists dotted the gully between Big Creek and FHSU's Robbins Center, some protected by trash bags and umbrellas, caught up in the effects of 3,000 degree molten iron poured into reaction molds. Flames burst from wooden molds despite huge raindrops all around. Lightning flashed, folks shrieked and sparks flew.

Artists continued their craft until around 10:30 p.m. before they "dropped bottom," Rathert said.

For many of the students, faculty and independent artists gathered from around the U.S. for the conference, Friday night was their first taste of the volatility of Kansas weather.

"We had a lot of people from out of town that thought they were going to get to see a tornado," Rathert said.

The conference drew more than 150 attendees throughout the week for keynote addresses, displays and performance and production pours.

"It's bigger than we ever expected," said Toby Flores, FHSU assistant professor of sculpture and event organizer. The conference, which was held for its first time in Hays, has been a biannual event since 2008.

The performance pour generally serves as the showpiece of the conference, providing "a real spectacle," Flores said, with musical acts, and fire dancers thrown into the mix for an evening of entertainment.

Nicole Thibodeau, FHSU art instructor, watched from the sidelines covered in a trash bag to protect herself from the rain, as her boyfriend, Lance Wadlow worked a furnace during the performance. She also was impressed by the natural fireworks.

"I've never been to one that had such awesome weather," she said.

Metal recycled from bathtubs, sinks, radiators and water pipes were melted for the performance pour in furnaces made by metal artists.

A furnace built by Rathert was one of three used during the performance pour. Flores encourages each of his metal sculpting students to build their own furnaces.

She started with "a lot of facts and figures and numbers," Rathert said, "then built the outer steel casing and lining."

Recently accepted to graduate school at the University of Mississippi, she will be leaving Hays this summer.

When she first came to FHSU from northeast Kansas, she felt drawn to the university, but hadn't seriously considered metal as her art form.

"I welded stuff together on the farm with my dad," she said. "I visited out here when I was still in high school and just knew it was where I needed to be."