What does it take to melt metal? If you had an old steel water heater and some scrap metal, you might be able to make it happen. Cast-iron artist Alisa did. She welded Flo, her cupola blast furnace, out of those materials. Fueled by coke (carbon fuel made of refined coal), Flo reaches about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and can melt about 100 pounds of iron at a time.
Casting The Gamut
Alisa is the mind and elbow grease behind FeLion Studios' one-of-a-kind cast-iron art pieces. The smallest thing she's ever cast is a pair of cufflinks. The biggest? Her Texas state pan. Its sand mould weighs 600 pounds, and the finished casting itself weighs 30. The oddest commission to date? A set of Perpetual Care markers, the kind you can still find beside headstones in some cemeteries. But Alisa is best known for her quarter-ton, 48-state “Made in America” map – featured front and center at the first-ever Martha Stewart American Made® Awards held at Grand Central Station in 2012.
A 500-pound art piece, 30-pound pans, 100-pound furnace capacity – things are getting heavy. In fact, an iron pour typically requires a ton (literally) of metal. Where does Alisa get it? Other than the scrap yard, oftentimes people call her up and donate old cast-iron bathtubs or radiators. She's even sledgehammered tubs out of people's bathrooms before. “The porcelain explodes everywhere,” Alisa says.
Fire it up!
In addition to FeLion Studios, Alisa owns and creates designs for the cast iron cookware company American Skillet Co. The skillets are made at a foundry in Kaukauna, WI, but Alisa still seasons them by hand. Outside her studio she slathers them with organic flax-seed oil and places them on wood-fired “quarter-barrel” stoves. She currently has four pans in production: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and New York, with more on the way.
State of Being
Alisa's favorite part about cast iron is that it bridges the divide between art and industry. Iron is used in trains, pipes and heavy machinery, yet Alisa's work hangs in galleries and is used in homes across the country. It's utility and art fused into one, which Alisa finds fascinating. She wonders: do people interact differently with the skillets since they're state-shaped and not just a circle? Do they bust them out only on fancy occasions? On college gameday? Whatever the case, they look damn good both hanging on the wall and sizzling on the stovetop.