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Sparks Fly at FSU with New Sculpting Opportunities

In this era of high tech gadgetry that continues to evolve at warp speeds, one of the hottest trends among hobbyists and artists is the age-old art of blacksmithing. This utilitarian art form, with a history that reaches back more than 2,000 years, is now available to Frostburg State University students as part of the institution's growing sculpture program.

Although blacksmithing is in its infancy as part of FSU's sculpture program, the potential to attract interested students looks promising enough to have sparked a flurry of activity in the Department of Visual Arts. By fall, a new pole building and outdoor welding area will house what Department Chair Dustin Davis calls a "sculpture production yard." Complete with salvaged I-beams for support and an entry for truck delivery and pickup, the structure is planned for the area between the Fine Arts Building and Dunkle Hall. Currently the kiln shed behind the Fine Arts Building serves as the forge.

To support the works in progress and the building itself, plus provide raw materials for metal sculptures, Davis obtained scrap metal, I-beams, channel beams, boom cranes and jib cranes salvaged from the old Kelly Springfield plant in Cumberland. What appears to the casual observer as a rusting scrap heat by the Fine Arts Building is actually a donation worth about $10,000.

The sculpture program also benefits from the expertise and equipment of instructor Doug Salmon, a professional artist who brings more than 30 years of metalworking experience to FSU. He also brought his own 1948 Little Giant 50 lb. Power Hammer to campus when he first started teaching blacksmithing techniques during the past spring semester. The addition of this equipment may have given FSU an edge in the field, Salmon believes.

"I don't know of any other school in the East that offers hot-forging and a power hammer," he says.

The quality of the students who have succumbed to the lure of the forge also bodes well for the program's future. After a successful senior show, recent graduate Megan Whitten, is now running the blacksmith shop with another woman at Spruce Forest Artisan Village at Penn Alps in nearby Grantsville. Junior Cindy Weisenmuller and freshman Mary McCunn each won third place in the metalworking category of the prestigious local Independence Day Exhibit of Art show. The program has inspired senior Jennifer DeMarkle to become a professional blacksmith.

Davis attributes much of the program's budding success to Salmon. Originally hired to teach a crafts workshop, he began assisting with the sculpture program, where Davis began to see his potential as an instructor.

"He pushes students to a point, yet is very demanding," Davis says. "He brings a new dimension of professionalism." One example is the liaison Salmon has set up between FSU and the respected Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, Pa., where he has taken students for workshops.

Salmon's visibility in the field of blacksmithing is also an asset to the program. Considered one of the top 20 metalworking artists in the country, he is currently president of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen. Through commissions, craft shows and direct sales, he has managed to earn a living as a professional artist.

"We're not focusing on traditional techniques, we're using them," says Salmon of the program. "We're sort of mixing it up to go where we want to go and say what we want to say. Through hot-forging, we get definition and changes in the quality of line to make it look fluid. It's the fastest growing area in sculpture."

For more information about metalworking and sculpture at FSU, contact Davis at (301) 687-4351.

For further information on this release, contact:

Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

Telephone: 301-687-3171
Fax: 301-687-7589