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Jesse Blumenthal

Iron artist Jesse Blumenthal led an iron pour at Free Cycles on Dec. 31 as part of First Night. On Feb. 14, he's holding another one at the University of Montana as a fundraiser for the bike shop.

Spend this Valentine's casting yourself a heart of iron. Or cast whatever you want.

Well, you won't cast it. You can carve it into a 4-by-inch block (heart-shaped blocks are extra), and Jesse Blumenthal and a crew will pour molten iron, 2,600 degrees, into it.

The University of Montana MFA student is holding "Pour Your Heart Out," in conjunction with his thesis show, opening on Thursday at the Gallery of Visual Arts in the Social Sciences Building.

The money goes toward Free Cycles, the community bike shop.

Blumenthal has been working with the nonprofit to expand its art programming and the potential for resident artists.

"I love Free Cycles and have seen art organically evolve out of there, and it's been a natural place for artists to come and kind of gather, the same way that makers for bicycles are gathering there," he said.

Through some grants and support from the Montana Arts Council and Mountain Bike Missoula, he bought steelworking equipment for use in the large warehouse on site.

On New Year's Eve, during First Night, they held a live iron pour, where people could carve a block design and get it cast. Despite the single-digit weather, about 65 people took part, including a dozen artists, some whom came from out of state.

On Thursday, for $20 you'll get a small block that "resembles sandstone, and has a little tile in the center," he said. Then you can carve a design of your choice (remember do it backward).

The carving portion runs from 5-7 p.m. in the lobby outside the GVA. Then from 7-8 p.m., head over to the Art Annex yard next to the Grizzly Pool.

There, Blumenthal and company will pour iron, and you get a piece of art that despite its small dimensions, weighs around 3 or 4 pounds. People have made numbers for their address, "elaborate paperweights," or tiles that can be incorporated into a larger piece, he said.

Adding to the event's color are a few performance-art elements.

Audio and visual artist NoJay "will be live-sampling the noises of the pour and then distorting them with pedals and loop machines," he said.

They'll also do a vegetarian and carnivore version of an "iron in ice" act. They've frozen beefheart and an artichoke heart into blocks of ice that will then have molten iron poured in them, and you can watch the iron melt out.

The metal, in case you're wondering, comes from salvaged radiators "broken by hand with sledgehammers down to the appropriate size," he said,

Iron-pouring, as you can imagine, isn't a solo act.

The crew doing the pouring are professionals and people learning the craft, with the apprentices handling less-critical jobs, such as standing by with shovels in case iron needs to be smothered with sand.

Blumenthal said the response to the New Year's iron pour, and to some of the welding classes at Free Cycles, have been positive and show the potential for more of its type at Free Cycles.

"There's a transformative quality to industrial arts, when you're dealing with material that is also changing states before people's eyes, and allowing people to be a participant in that process is, I think, important," he said. You can "see people shift how they approach their lives, and valuing their own creative expression, being able to open the possibilities of what they can pursue."

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