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Community - Oct 26, 2023

SHINE Project

Karter Kaminske and Lexie Toney | Waupaca Foundry

When someone says manufacturing, engineering, or iron casting—the last thing you may think of is art. Waupaca Foundry’s Mike Hemmila does not consider himself an artist. Still, it’s his mission to create the concept, design, and fabrication for a piece of artwork featuring glass and cast iron.

A sample of one of the glass fused panels at Waupaca Foundry's headquarters. 

Hemmila is collaborating with the Waupaca Community Arts Board to create a public sculpture that showcases the artistic side of metalworking and fused glass. Dubbed Project SHINE, four sculptures will comprise about 120 fused glass panels, framed in metal, and positioned outdoors to capture the sun during all four seasons of the year. 
Hemmila says the team working on the project wanted a piece of public art that would last for years. “We had to determine what to make the structure out of and plan for the effects of the weather,” he said. “In this case, we want the work to rust because the oxidation will be a nice offset against the colors and clarity of the glass.”

By day, Hemmila, a plant manager, leads operations at Waupaca Foundry Plant 2/3. This is the second time he’s been tapped to help with public art in Waupaca—the first was creating a structure for a public art installation in Waupaca's South Park in 2014.

The finished size of the display has yet to be finalized, but Hemmila said each of the four pieces could be 10 feet tall. What is determined is that the structures will have history literally melted into them. When Waupaca rebuilt its streets in 2021, workers unearthed the city’s old trolley rails, which will be melted down and used in the iron for the artwork’s structure.

In addition to designing the frame for the sculpture, Hemmila had to find a fast, easy solution to cast the metal piece. The project called for rapid prototyping, so he will make a 3D-printed mold used to receive molten metal, that when cooled, will make the structure. Once the metal is poured into the mold, the plastic replica will melt, leaving a cast iron work of art.

The frame will be cast off-line which means foundry team members will pour the molten metal by hand instead of automatic production on a vertical or horizontal molding machine. The low quantity means the foundry will pour as if they were creating a sample or prototype casting. As for the investment in the artwork, the hand work and materials are valued at about $500,000.

The fused glass pieces are all created by regional citizens in fused glass workshops held by the Waupaca Community Arts Board. The response to create these colorful, shining tiles has been overwhelming, resulting in hundreds of 8”x 8” and 6” by 6” tiles. Mary Beisner, a regionally based glass artist, has been leading the classes and overseeing the project. Beisner owns and manages a studio and retail shop for artists, Blessings & Friends.

“They filled up as soon as we posted them on our website, before we had a chance to do our outreach and promotions,” said Marci Reynolds, president of the Waupaca Community Arts Board. “We are also overwhelmed with the beautiful creations people are coming up with. It will truly be an extraordinary sculpture!” To view the current glass creations, visit this link.

The final assembled work is scheduled for completion in early 2024 with a dedication planned later next year. In addition to support from Waupaca Foundry, the Shine Community Sculpture project is sponsored in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the state of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. The project also is funded by a matching grant from the Waupaca Placemakers Committee.

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