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To Pour Iron Ore

The Scranton Arts Festival in the afternoon of Saturday June 7, 2014.
The Scranton Arts Festival in the afternoon of Saturday June 7, 2014.
Ben Freda

Arts on Fire Festival


A festival taught some citizens of Scranton the work, which some of their ancestors did in the Scranton Iron Furnaces. It also gave local students first-hand experience the hot, hard work, in which the European immigrants of Scranton endured. This festival revealing a little of Scranton's industrious history was the 5th annual Arts on Fire Festival, which was held at the Scranton Iron Furnaces on the weekend of June 6-8.

skimming molten iron
Ben Freda

The Arts on Fire weekend kicked off with an art display at AFA Gallery located on Lackawanna Ave. It was called Iron Maidens. It was an exhibition, which featured sculptures and drawings made by American and British female sculptors who work in cast iron. The upstairs of the AFA Gallery had a display called Keystone Iron Works: The Iron Furnaces Casting the Future with an Eye on the Past.

The Arts on Fire festival continued at the Scranton Iron Furnaces, which is the gateway from downtown to the South Side of Scranton. At noon, officials, such as Senator John Blake, Commissioner Patrick O'Malley, and Councilman Bill Goun said a few words during the festival's ribbon cutting ceremony, in which Robert Savakinus, chairman of the Arts on Fire, cut the ribbon. Goun mentioned in his speech that his ancestors worked in the Scranton Iron Furnaces. Maureen McGuigan, deputy director of arts & culture of Lackawanna County, thanked Nikki Moser, co-founder of the Keystone Iron Works, for her program.

"We're celebrating history," said McGuigan. "We're engaging in the arts."

The Keystone Iron Works is the program, which allows high school and college students to work with an iron-melting furnace. This furnace was next to the four stone-blast furnaces which are remnants of a plant operated by the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Company.

The students, wearing welding suits and hard hats, started out by breaking old radiators to have them melted down by the furnace. They also fueled the furnace by feeding it bags of coke (cooked coal). Some of the students were forging metal by pounding it with an anvil.

Later, students of the Keystone Iron Works poured molten iron out of the furnace and into a metal bucket. One person from each group used a skimmer to scoop the remains of the molten iron. Then, they carried the bucket to pour the iron into sandy scratch molds, which were carved by the festival goers at a nearby tent. They carved them into shapes such as hexagons and octagons.

"It was fantastic," said LeAnna Farnelli, a sophomore of Elk Lake High School, who used a skimmer at the festival. "We got to learn about the property of iron mold and saw how to use it as a career."

This was Farnelli's first time pouring iron into big scratch molds. last year, she worked with smaller scratch molds.

"We also saw what kinds of sculptures made by artists, who made a career out of art and sculpture," she stated.

Teachers of the Keystone Iron Works program believe it's a good experience for the students.

"It's a really great opportunity for high school students to get involved in the arts and the process that has been integral to the history of Scranton," said Kevin Dartt, one of the instructors of the program.

Before the Arts on Fire festival, the Keystone Iron Works students practiced iron pouring workshops at the Keystone College art studios. Eight iron-pouring workshops ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays since May 20. The students also practiced making molds, and learned about pattern making and sand casting.

"The Keystone Iron Works program is a wonderful program for everyone involved. The local students learn so much - not only the basic of iron pouring but about the industrial history of an area," said Fran Calpin, senior director of college relations at Keystone College. "It is an honor for Keystone to have a role in the Arts on Fire festival, which is a great annual community event for everyone."

Also at the festival, Keystone College assistant professor of ceramics Jared Jaffe sold his pottery items, which he made from his RAKU (a Japanese form of pottery) kiln. His items included repurposed beer bottles and hand-blown bowls made from molten glass.

It's been growing every year," Jaffe said about the festival. "Every year, we get more spectators. People want to be involved with it. It's a signature event."

Jaffe is also a member of the organizing committee of the Arts on Fire festival. Ceramic artist and substitute teacher of the Abington Heights school district Kati Kameroski was also present to talk to people about RAKU. She also enjoyed the festival.

"It's nice because other artists come in as one," she stated.

Presentation specialist John Bibalo from Simpson, PA displayed an old locomotive wheel, built in 1917, with a cast steel rim and a 1951 steel tire. He lit the wheel on fire by propane gas to change the tire on it. Bibalo and his wheel will be in the locomotive shop at Steamtown Historical Site during Railfest on Saturday August 30 and Sunday August 31.

Vendors at the Arts on Fire festival included Storm Spoons (selling wooden spoons) and Sawptician, chainsaw carvings of wood such as a bear holding an actual bottle of honey. Raffle baskets benefited the Anthracite Heritage Museum & Iron Furnaces Associates. The Lackawanna Historical Society sold historical books and old, vintage bottles. Brookvalley Farm Draft & Crafts gave horse-drawn carriage rides around South Side.

The Arts on Fire Festival embodies Scranton's industrious past. It gives present citizens and citizens yet to come a chance to witness its hard-working history.

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