When Lindsey Christina walks the grounds at Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, she often finds “little pieces of art” that have escaped notice or simply been forgotten.
“I find things in sheds, in closets, under the viaduct,” she said. “I found an old rusty coin in the gravel on the road the other day, and it was a cool discovery. There are little things that artists have left, and I want to find out where it all came from.”
Those unexpected treasures are only a small part of the many reasons Christina calls her new role as Sloss Metal Arts (SMA) program director her “ultimate dream job.”
“This position is exactly what I have been hoping for for many years,” she said. “I think that this is my opportunity to really highlight something in Birmingham that a lot of people don’t know about and include a lot of artists from around the country who may not have had access to our foundry before. It allows me to help elevate Sloss as a national landmark, a center for metal arts in our country and a cool place to go. Who wouldn’t want to work at Sloss Furnaces?”
Sloss Metal Arts is housed at Sloss Furnaces, once the world’s largest manufacturer of pig iron and now a National Historic Landmark. Today, professional artists use those same foundry facilities to cast their own creations.
Additionally, the program offers sculpture workshops, introducing beginners to the art of casting, welding and forging.
Since taking on the role as program director last November, Christina has been hard at work. She oversees foundry operations, hires new resident artists and coordinates various on-site events.
“Sloss has been one of the places where artists and makers have come and created a community for each other,” Christina said. “It’s very much a homegrown, grassroots foundry that talented people have created and added to over the years. The iron and metalworking community is a very tight community, and I’m really excited to become part of it.”
Christina said one of her goals is to help formalize the program and turn it into a nationally known center for artists and sculptors. Since its creation 37 years ago, SMA has produced sculptures for individuals and companies, gift items and souvenirs made from pig iron, and trophies for events like the NASCAR Cup Series at the Talladega Superspeedway.
“We’re slowly moving away from being a production foundry to a place where artists can focus on making art that is meaningful,” she said.
Christina has big plans. One of her goals is to create a formal sculpture garden on the grounds of Sloss Furnaces, where artists can display their work for visitors to enjoy.
Christina also wants to inventory SMA’s extensive art collection.
“We have tons of really cool stuff, like old handmade tools and cast-iron shoes,” she said. “Some of it is installed on-site, but a lot of it, people don’t even notice. I want to inventory these pieces, find out who made them, why the artist made them and what year they were made.”
Christina said SMA has received a grant that will be used to expand the facility. Plans are in the works to build an exhibition space, studio apartments for resident artists and an area that will accommodate additional workshops.
“We want to improve the foundry so our artists will have the best of everything at their fingertips,” she said.
From industry to art
Established in 1985, SMA is operated by the Sloss Furnaces Foundation.
Along with supporting its five resident artists, SMA offers workshops, exhibitions and conferences focusing on all aspects of metalworking. It hosts the biennial National Conference on Contemporary Cast-Iron Art and Practices, where artists and students from across the country gather to learn and share information, exhibit their work and take part in competitions.
SMA also hosts tours for students during the school year and a Summer Youth Apprenticeship Program. During the eight-week program, 12 to 15 high school students work with resident artists to learn casting, fabrication, welding, blacksmithing and the ins and outs of preparing for exhibitions of their art.
Christina said SMA offers its resident artists the unique opportunity to create in a foundry that played a significant role in the Industrial Revolution. Sloss operated from 1882 to 1970 and was the longest-running blast furnace in Birmingham. Now, as a National Historic Landmark, it provides artists and visitors alike a realistic look into the city’s rich industrial past.
A leader in the art world
Although Christina said she does not consider herself an artist, she has a wealth of experience in helping others turn their artistic dreams into reality.
Christina said she has “grown up around artists.” Her grandparents, mom and an aunt are artists, and at age 32 she decided to return to college to study art.
“I went back to school because I wanted to invest in myself and learn something new,” she said. “While I was in school, I became more interested in arts administration and art event management – the business side of being an artist.”
Before joining SMA, Christina held a number of positions, including managing director of the Birmingham Art Crawl and festival manager at Fine Art Services. She developed an art program for Jimmie Hale Mission. Although her focus is art administration, Christina loves to spend her free time painting, printmaking and creating collages for her home.
Christina said she is committed to spreading the word about SMA and its artists.
“I’m really excited about bringing artists to Birmingham, showing them what the city has to offer, giving them the resources and tools that are hard to find, and providing opportunities for exhibitions,” she said. “There are so many people who have had positive experiences at SMA, and I hope I can add to that tradition.”
She is also passionate about helping Birmingham continue to evolve as a community where artists can shine.
“I feel a lot of artists take their talent elsewhere because that’s where the opportunities are,” she said. “But I love Birmingham and I’m glad I have stuck around. We’ve all seen how the city has grown just in the last 10 years, and I’d like to think I’ve had a small part in that. I take pride in everything I do because I do it in support of our city and our artists.”
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)