June 24, 2018
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Early 1900s utilitarian patterns now art

By Walter Griffin

BELFAST, Maine — Hundreds of handmade wooden patterns salvaged from the former Waterville Iron Works are on sale to benefit Waterfall Arts and the Belfast Maskers.

The patterns were used to make molds for items such as stove parts, plows and gears, which were cast in iron at the 19th century factory once located on the banks of the Kennebec River in Waterville.

The patterns are part of Waterfall Arts’ “Cast and Found: the Art of Wood Foundry Patterns, circa 1900” exhibit in the Clifford Gallery until the end of February. Hand tools used for making wooden patterns, which are on loan from the Davistown Museum in Liberty, also are part of the exhibit.

Although the Waterville Iron Works closed in the early part of the last century, the same technologies of casting products from wooden patterns are still in use today, said Waterfall Arts director Lorna Crichton.

The wooden pattern is placed in a form, which is then packed with a mixture of sand and clay. Once the mold is set, the pattern is removed and the mold is filled with molten metal.

The exhibit includes a table with form and sand mixture clay where visitors can create their own clay mold. All that is missing is the molten iron.

“We’ve had some very enthusiastic high school students in here pounding sand,” Crichton said. “You really have to pound it hard to make it work.”

The patterns come in various shapes and sizes. Many are easily identified as pipe fittings and machine parts, while the purpose of others is a mystery.

Although utilitarian in function, the patterns have an elegance of shape and craftsmanship that would not find them out of place when displayed next to paintings, sculptures or other works of art. Each pattern is unique and with prices beginning at a few dollars, they provide an opportunity to contribute to Waterfall Arts and Belfast Maskers, as well as to obtain a 100-year-old piece of handcrafted art.

Crichton said the late David Outerbridge, a well-known author, book and newspaper publisher from Belfast, saved the patterns from the dump in the early 1970s and they had been stored in his barn since then. His wife, Lilias, a founder of the Belfast Maskers, mentioned them to Waterfall Arts’ Alan and Lorna Crichton earlier this year and they were immediately taken by their artistic qualities. Outerbridge and the Crichtons decided they would be ideal for an exhibit and benefit.

“They hadn’t been touched for years,” Lorna Crichton said. “We took them from the barn, dusted them off and wiped them with corn oil to bring them back. They really are beautiful.”

According to the city’s Web site, Waterville Iron Works was located at the Head of Falls property at Ticonic Falls on the west bank of the Kennebec River in the early 1800s. The iron works was the birthplace of the Lombard Log Hauler, the predecessor of every snowmobile, bulldozer and “Caterpillar Track” piece of equipment existing today. While the mills and heavy industry are memories of the past, the city is working to reconnect the area to its downtown near the famed Two Cent Bridge.

“Cast and Found: the Art of Wooden Foundry Patterns, circa 1900” is sponsored by ReVision Energy, Consumers Fuel, French & Webb Co., Liberty Cabinet and Design, Metaphore Bronze with support from the Davistown Museum.

Waterfall Arts is at 256 High St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. For information, call 338-2222 or visit waterfallarts.org.

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