Shock and awe. Molten iron. The risk of bodily harm. For metal sculptor Julie Slattery it was intense, unexpected, and spelled lifelong love at first sight.
“I went to Alfred University [in Western New York] to be a painter,” she says. “But I signed up for my classes late, and then there was nothing really left but something called ‘foundry.’ I had never heard of that so I said to myself, ‘Well, I guess I’m doing foundry, whatever that is.’”
Slattery says she started drawing as soon as she was old enough to hold a pencil. She headed off to college picturing easels, paints, and soft brushes. But when she walked into foundry class, she entered an alien world. “There was danger. Molten metal was glowing orange and we had to put on all this leather protective gear. It was so intimidating. And so exhilarating!”
After earning a BFA in sculpture in 2014, Slattery moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to pursue a career in metal casting, working in bronze-casting foundries including the prestigious Shidoni foundry, which has produced some of America’s major sculptural works.
“I was a metal chaser, the job everybody hates the most, the final stage in the fabrication process where you have to grind off the welds and match the texture,” explains Slattery. “But it was my favorite. And it’s especially fun when it’s an abstract and you can’t tell which part is the art and which part isn’t.”
Then Slattery fell in love the other way — with her partner Paul Watson, also a sculptor. He was doing a residency and helping manage the Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum in Solsberry, Indiana. She volunteered there, and they lived in the middle of the sculpture park in a one-room cabin in the woods. “I miss it; it was so cozy,” Slattery says. “I’ve never heard more coyotes in my life.”
When the residency ended, the couple settled in Asheville, where they are now scheming and dreaming about establishing a foundry and sculpture park. “Not a fine-art foundry doing big expensive bronze, but more to host workshops and teach people how to do it themselves, affordably,” the artist explains.
They moved here just in time for the start of pandemic social isolation, though, so Slattery started doing linoleum block printing, since metal casting typically requires a group of people. She continues to make and sell a variety of block-printed items, but has returned to metal casting, her main focus.
Slattery’s portfolio includes everything from boldly exquisite jewelry to unicorn skulls and realistic-looking bronze pretzels, as well as figurative sculptures. She does some of her life-casting figurative pieces by taking molds of her own body – face, torso, hands, legs, feet. “My partner is really good at casting, so he helps. For the mask piece I made I put straws up my nose [to breathe] and wore a swim cap, with quick-set mold material on my face.”
The experience was, she recalls, at once “claustrophobic and pretty cathartic.” The artist says she struggles with anxiety, and notes that “a lot of my work is about mental illness and trauma … and sculpture is my therapy. It takes energy, but gives me back energy in my life.”
Julie Slattery, Asheville. Slattery’s work is showing in the group exhibit Revenant at Continuum Gallery (147 Suite C, 1st Avenue East, Hendersonville) through Tuesday, March 8 (continuumartnc.com). Slattery’s art prints are available in downtown Asheville at Horse + Hero (14 Patton Ave., Asheville, horseandhero.com). For more information, see julieslattery.com and on Instagram: @fishbowlsoul.