As the yellow school bus eased to a stop at the Walla Walla Foundry, eager Edison Elementary fifth-graders piled out to begin their afternoon visit.
With just an hour-and-a-half to tour the facility on a recent Friday, the students were quickly split into three groups. While one group sat down in a darkened room for a presentation on the foundry's history and artists, another group began a walking tour of the site's various work areas. The third group got to pound away on clay for individual attempts at miniature busts. By the tour's end, all students would get to experience the three stations.
In the newest offering of the Carnegie Art Center's Picture Lady program, area fifth-graders this spring were taken on tours of the foundry, where acclaimed artists' works are not just displayed but crafted. Foundry staff work with artists from a project's vision to its completion, offering skilled workers, the right equipment and materials to see all manner of art come to life.
The students have gotten a sneak peek at the behind the scenes work that goes into making a single piece of art. From visits with wax workers in their own studio, to seeing the various processes of metal manipulation, the students got a first-hand feel for the intricate and laborious process of creating sculptures and other artworks.
Picture Lady program chair Augusta Farnum said the foundry visits are meant to be like a graduation present for fifth-graders. Through the Picture Lady program, area elementary students, in kindergarten through fifth grades, receive instruction throughout the year on classic artists, their history and their styles.
Farnum said a tour of the foundry, and working with the foundry as a partner, had been an early goal of the program. The right planning and coordination helped make the visits possible this year.
The tours launched with a visit by Blue Ridge Elementary students, and included Assumption Catholic School, Prospect Point, Edison, Berney and Green Park schools.
To prepare the students, and maintain the focus on education, teachers were asked to discuss sculpture and art prior to the tours. Students were also encouraged to go on tours of the city to check out and think about public art.
"The idea is to prime the children before they come as much as we can," Farnum said.
There is art throughout the foundry, but there are also the telling signs of an active studio. The sound of saws and torches mingles with forklifts hauling supplies across the grounds. The scent of melted wax filled the wax work room.
In the wax room, students huddled around a work station where supervisor Jeremy Lilwall described the process of casting things in wax, and the various items the foundry has seen.
"We've made molds of cars, we've made molds of people. We've done shoes," Lilwall said about the waxing process. At the moment, the students were focused on soccer balls -- the severed half of one with a hollow center, and the other a solid mass that weighed much more than the real thing. Both were passed around for students to feel and weigh.
"It's like a real soccer ball," one boy said.
The students followed the soccer ball concept into the warehouse where bronze and other metals are manipulated as liquids to continue the casting process. Large crucibles are used to melt bronze or silver, depending on the project at hand.
Shiloh Stott, head of the casting department, went over the process of turning a wax soccer ball into one made out of bronze.
"We need to find a way to surround this ball," he said, holding the wax soccer ball, "with something that won't melt plaster or ceramic."
Stott stressed the need for safety gear when working with metal, and let student Kevin Filan try on some of the gear to demonstrate. The silver-colored apron, jacket and gloves, made of Kevlar, and safety mask, were all oversized on Filan.
"It's kind of heavy, and kind of itchy," Filan said of the gear.
Similar safety gear is needed to carve details into finished metal. Benjamin Espa?±a demonstrated the importance of wearing drop-down face shields, gloves, and arm shields, as well as welding helmets in the metal shop.
In the clay studio, students learned that making busts out of clay takes precision and care.
Adam Kopf poked holes for eyes in his lump of clay, then shaped a nose from the mass for a nose. He used a tool to carve a mouth.
"It was pretty fun," he said about the tour.
Gavin Acevedo carved eyelids, eyebrows and a mouth for his bust.
"Oh, I gotta make a chin," he said.
As they walked across the grounds, most students were in awe of the large sculptures of horses throughout the foundry by artist Deborah Butterfield. There was also a sneak peek at a sculpture of a giant penny made by artist Tom Otterness, who is best known locally for his "Covered Wagon" piece at Pioneer Park.
Farnum said for a long time, the foundry was reserved for special tours or classes, or those already in the know of its location.
"It was a hidden secret from our own community," Farnum said, explaining the background to the fifth-grade tours. "That is why it was started, to give a perspective and opportunity to every child, every class."
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8317.
FOR YOUR INFO
The Picture Lady Program is part of the Carnegie Art Center. In 2010-11, elementary students in Walla Walla and College Place learned about Matisse, Rembrandt, Cassatt and Japanese print-makers.
Online: carnegieart.com; wallawallafoundry.com