Artists Susan Roberts and Dilys Jackson track the ten year journey of the Iron Maidens project, a collective of Welsh and American female sculptors who work in cast iron. The first incarnation exhibited internationally, culminating in a US tour in 2014, and has resulted in Iron Maidens II, inviting a series of new contributors.
Iron Maidens II: Made in Wales is a group of female sculptors who use cast iron as a medium. The group arose in 2017 from Iron Maidens, a group of female sculptors from the UK and the US whose cast iron work toured, from 2009 to 2014, in venues in Wales, England and America over five years. The excitement generated by that project engendered the formation of Iron Maidens II: Made in Wales. This group of Wales-based sculptors is similarly excited by the nature of cast iron as a sculptural medium and wish to show their work to others. By doing so they hope not only to present their work to the public, but also to interest other sculptors, particularly female sculptors, in using this medium and exploring its many possibilities.
Iron Maidens II has shown in some unusual settings, including the outdoor display windows of Tescos in Port Talbot. As part of this project a member worked with students from the college in Port Talbot making ‘scratch moulds’ which were poured later at Coleg Sir Gar. A performance about iron pouring was filmed under a by-pass and there was a Launch of the project at the British Legion club in the town.
In March 2018 the Group exhibited at Theatr Clwyd, Mold and in May at the International Conference of Contemporary Cast Iron Art at Scranton, USA, and this year, Iron Maidens II is exhibiting at Art Central Gallery in Barry.
This new movement is attempting to build upon the energy and success of the original incarnation of Iron Maidens, which formed as a collective of Welsh and American artists in 2009. This started as an exhibition of the sculpture and drawings of women sculptors in cast iron from both the UK and the US. It started in Suffolk at a US/UK Cast Iron Symposium organised by Coral Lambert. During that particular Symposium, Coral had arranged for a special exhibition of the work of sculptors who had taken part in these regular symposia over many years. It seemed that, as there was work now in the UK, that it should have a further journey out of England to Wales. We wanted to show Wales the wealth of work by women sculptors in Wales, England and the US and the firm connections they had made across the Atlantic. All the artists that were asked to join this project were sculptors who Sue had met in the US and the UK at residencies, symposia and conferences. Some shipped work to the UK specially for the project. We asked if sculptors would also contribute drawings and so was born Iron Maidens, the exhibition.
The first venue was at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre in Cwmbran. This gallery is funded by the Arts Council of Wales mainly to show crafts, but Iron Maidens was accepted because of the process involved in production of the work. Funding for a simple catalogue and for transport costs had to be sought separately and we were very pleased to be given a grant by the Gibbs Family Foundation which has an excellent track record of supporting arts projects in Wales. In discussion with colleagues it was suggested that a student at Coleg Sir Gar in Carmarthen could design a catalogue as part of their portfolio in exchange for an inclusion of their work in the exhibition. So a small simple catalogue was produced for the original exhibition at Llantarnam Grange, which travelled with the exhibition as it toured to the Women’s Arts Association Exhibition at Art Central in Barry and later to the 6th International Conference of Contemporary Cast Iron Art in Kidwelly where Deborah LaGrasse joined the group. But this was not the final showing in the UK as several works from the exhibition went to the Fire and Iron Gallery in Leatherhead, England ,and then finally back to Wales to Pontardawe Arts Centre and the Denbigh Library Gallery.
Meanwhile Iron Maidens had been offered a showing in the US which was arranged at the Catherine G Murphy Gallery by Tamsie Ringler of St Catherine’s University, St Paul. Other sculptors were invited to join in, so the numbers grew again. Thanks to an Arts Council of Wales grant Dilys was able to go to this first US Opening as was Justine Johnson from the UK. Tamsie had arranged walkabouts, talks, and a panel discussion during the exhibition. After that showing, Tamsie arranged another at St John’s University in St Cloud, MN. Iron Maidens continued to travel. With Deborah LaGrasse and Denise Drury’s help it was shown at the John Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, Western Carolina University and then finally with Nikki Moser’s help (and Melissa Carestia’s assistance) at the Artists for Art Gallery in Scranton US in June 2014.
This was the last in this series of exhibitions. It was a very exciting project. It has gathered women sculptors from each side of the Atlantic either joining in or working in parallel to demonstrate the power and excitement of the work of women iron-casters. It started in 2009 and it finished in 2014, and it is so exciting to see it re-emerge in the current project. We feel very proud that it engendered such enthusiasm and honoured that it showed the work of so many eminent sculptors of cast iron.
The original Iron Maidens were Dilys Jackson, Tamsie Ringler, Coral Lambert, Theresa Smith, Cynthia Handel. Felicia Glidden, Sarah Clover, Justine Johnson, Kate Hobby, Ali Lochhead, Julie Ward, Carrie Phoenix, Simone Bizzell-Browning, Deborah LaGrasse, Veronica Glidden and Mary Johnson.
The new Iron Maidens are Simone Bizzell-Browning, Ashleigh Harrold , Mandy Lane, Dilys Jackson, Irene Gunston, Ali Lochhead, Claire Ward, Mared Davies, Justine Johnson, Sue Roberts, Lisa Evans.
Line and Form, an exhibition of Iron Maidens: Made in Wales artists is on at the Art Central Gallery in Barry until October 14th.