Above: Molten metal was poured into a smaller ladle during an iron pour at the University of Minnesota. Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune. 

Advocates have expressed concern about the future of the University of Minnesota's foundry program, which for more than 50 years has trained artists in casting and creating works from metal.

The university decided not to renew the contract of Assistant Professor of Sculpture and Foundry Tamsie Ringler, who left a tenured position at St. Catherine University in 2014 to take charge of the program. 

The University of Minnesota did not respond directly to questions about the program, but instead pointed to what it characterized as a shift by the Art Department toward a more interdisciplinary practice.

"The work we have done creating a more interdisciplinary program over the last few years has allowed our students to incorporate a variety of processes and disciplines while they explore their creativity and their build art practices," said Prof. Lynn Lukkas, the department's chair, via email. "The foundry is one of those facilities and it will continue with the same course offerings and faculty expertise that has been available to our students over the past several years."

“It’s really a loss,” said Ringler. “We are all crushed.”

The program held its 50th annual University of Minnesota Iron Pour Friday afternoon at the Regis Center for Art.

Student enrollment has stayed fairly constant – 16 to 21 students – since the fall of 2014 when Ringler joined the foundry program. The foundry classes also served an additional 40 introductory students per semester, and were offered at night for ease of enrollment.

Ringler and her predecessor, Wayne Potratz, who built the program, say they suspect that changes in art-world trends were a contributing factor in the decision.

“There is a perception that the foundry is antiquated or not relevant,” said Ringler. “But you could argue that the tide is shifting again, back toward craft or process-based practices. Artists like Matthew Barney produce a lot of cast metal work.”

Potratz wonders about the shift toward interdisciplinary work, which encompasses a broad range of creative mediums into an artist's practice rather than focusing on one craft. “How can there be interdisciplinary work if they aren’t working in the disciplines?” he said. “They diminished the ceramics program, which Warren MacKenzie was a part of, and my program” – both of them hands-on art activities.

The university says it has not yet hired an instructor to run the program. Potratz fears the university will hire an adjunct professor as a cost-saving measure. 

“It’s a big responsibility for the crappy pay that an adjunct gets,” said Potratz. “It’s a course that involves a lot of involvement with the students, handling a lot of the materials – it's hot stuff.”