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Heavy Metal: Shafer Art Gallery features exhibit by local sculptors
McCaffery (left) and Westbrook founded the non-profit organization Carbon Arts in Detroit in 2011 with the purpose of teaching the art of iron casting and sculpture to all people who are interested in the foundry process and iron pours as performance. McCaffery hopes to one day open a branch of Carbon Arts in Ellinwood and to offer residency programs for aspiring artists. For more information, go to - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

While not generally known as a venue for heavy metal, the Shafer Gallery will be just that as it unveils its exhibit of rustic metal sculptures titled “Chaplets, Copes and Drags,” by Ellinwood artists Aaron McCaffery and Casey Westbrook with an opening reception from 1-3 p.m. today.
The pair of artists specialize in creating one-of-a-kind metal sculptures from cast iron by heating the metal, which melts at around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and then pouring it into molds they create in the planning stages.  The art work is, by its very definition, “heavy metal” with pieces weighing between 25 and 800 pounds.
Both artists, with almost 23 years combined experience, are drawn to the style of artwork because of the tactile and often strenuous nature of the process, but also the group approach that is necessary when pouring the molten metal.
“I like the physicality of it and the community, and after I went to my first iron pour, I was hooked,” McCaffery said. “It’s something you can’t do by yourself. You have several people come and help you, so there is a real camaraderie involved in it, and I really, really enjoy that aspect of it.”
“It either hooks you or it pushes you away,” said Westbrook of the multi-part process.
Westbrook said the exhibit and the style of art have a recurring theme.
“The phrase that keeps coming up in the art world regarding this style of art  is ‘repetition without replication’ because there are a lot of the same patterns or molds, but because they are poured differently, or the way the metal reacts while it’s inside of the mold, there can be completely different outcomes,” he said.  “So, for this exhibit you’ll see a lot of multiples of the same shapes, but variations within those forms.”
Both artists are looking forward to showcasing their creations at the Shafer Gallery.
“It’s exciting for me because I worked at the gallery when I was at Barton for a year, and it was really one of my first exposures to art, so it’s pretty awesome,” said McCaffery. “I’ve been travelling around doing workshops for so long that I’ve fallen into a scenario where I do all the pouring, furnace operation and teaching – so to actually be invited to an exhibition and to start making art again is great. Also, the gallery is really an amazing space.”
Gallery Director Dave Barnes said the exhibit is perfect for the gallery.
“Our motto at the gallery is ‘Where the Old West Meets the Future,’ and we have a wonderful traditional collection of bronze statues by Gus Shafer, and the cast iron sculptures that they are doing are very very contemporary and cutting edge, so this exhibit is designed to bridge the gap,” Barnes said.
The opening reception will feature music, refreshments and a gallery talk by Barnes as well as a mini-exhibit featuring framed historical signatures. The Shafer Gallery’s regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is always free.