Thursday, February 17, 2011
Fire in the Belly
Alumnus Christopher Lee stokes the flames of SDSU’s historic art foundry.
Local sculptor Peter Mitten at the "pour." Photo: Sandy Huffaker Jr.
One sunny Saturday morning last fall, a group of artists met in a cluttered courtyard behind the School of Art, Design and Art History. Not unlike a gallery opening, the event was part creative showcase, part social occasion.
But on this day, the promise of a fiery climax was what the crowd had come to see. They were waiting for the “pour,” when the molten bronze would turn their meticulously crafted moulds into sculpture.
Orchestrating the event, dressed in fireproof gear resembling a spacesuit, was Christopher Lee, ’78, ’81. About 35 years ago, Lee helped inaugurate SDSU’s then-brand-new foundry.
“It was very exciting,” he recalled. “We were pouring hot metal into molds that we’d made. Everything we created was by our hand from dirt or from nothing, and it was very cool.”
Lee is now an accomplished sculptor with public art projects in Mission Beach, Hillcrest, three local libraries and Terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport. He still casts some of his pieces at the SDSU foundry, but it is no longer the vibrant place he remembers. Only a handful of sculptors remains among the art school faculty.
So Lee is back on campus, leading workshops to teach the process of casting original artwork in aluminum and bronze. The first session last fall brought together SDSU students and alumni with teachers and artists from all over San Diego, and the sculptures were as diverse as the participants.
During the pour, Lee cast a “flaming sphere”—a spherical shape with projectiles that will radiate heat when engulfed in the flames of a fire pit. Other pieces included a 24-by-12 inch bronze wall hanging created by Emeritus Professor Jess Dominguez; a menorah of twigs created by a former SDSU student; and from a student in the furniture department, clawfoot legs for a wooden dresser.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to learn from an artist of national stature who works in this community and has skills that are hard to find on campus,” said Arthur Ollman, director of the art school. “A lot of our sculptors have retired, so we try to find people in the community to lead workshops like this.”
Not only do Lee’s workshops provide a service for SDSU and the art community, he and other Sculpture Co-Op volunteers work together to repair and maintain the foundry for future generations of sculptors.
Read more about Christopher Lee in the SDSU Alumni Association enewsletter.