Festival of Combustion 2018 at Carrie Furnace celebrates molten steel, industrial arts
For a derelict, rusting relic of Pittsburgh’s steel heyday, Carrie Furnace is awful busy these days.
Movies, music festivals, car cruises, Wiz Khalifa music videos, American Ninja Warrior—all have used the site as a stunning backdrop. Tours and photo safaris are also open to the public regularly.
This one, though, is special—the Festival of Combustion, Sept. 29. It also might be closest to the hearts of Rivers of Steel, the nonprofit that runs Carrie Furnace.
“It really started with a desire to connect the dots between these two things – the industrial trades and the artists that we tend to work with at Rivers of Steel Arts,” says Chris McGinnis, director and chief curator of Rivers of Steel Arts. “They share a lot of the same skill sets and use the same machines and tools to create their art, that people are using to create all manner of things in the industrial world.”
The Festival of Combustion will include everything from glass-blowing to raku ceramics, blacksmithing to custom-building an automobile. There will be demonstrations and hands-on activities for all ages.
“Kids under 18 are free,” explains McGinnis. “All the hands-on workshops are handled carnival-style. You buy tickets and can give them for the glass-etching or iron casting. Rather than charging the kids to be there, you can buy opportunities to make and take things home.”
Of course, molten metal is sort of the star of the show.
“I’m always excited about the iron pour,” says McGinnis. “It gives people a chance to experience what took placed at the Carrie Furnaces, as a blast furnace. We have two former iron blast furnaces that were part of the Homestead Works—it’s essentially a scale model of what took place there.”
“I think it’s really valuable for people to get a small taste of the heat and intensity and danger, but also the beauty and excitement of molten iron.”
One hands-on activity is creating a scratch mold, where visitors can have their design scratched into a mold, then cast in iron, that they can take home.
There will also be a blacksmith, Jared Ondovchik, with Artifact Metalworks.
“There’s a big resurgence of knifesmithing,” says McGinnis. “We get a lot of people interested in blacksmithing and knifesmithing.”
Others doing demonstrations include the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, Mobile Sculpture Workshop, Ton Pottery out of Millvale. The Pittsburgh Glass Center will do a glass-blowing demonstration. Protohaven will do laser-cutting demonstrations.
“A featured Mon Valley artisan, Katy DeMent, will be doing papermaking and collagraph printmaking,” says McGinnis.
There will also be food trucks (BRGR and Pittsburgh Pierogie Truck) and live music from DJ Zombo and The Seams.
That this giant rusting remnant of the steel industry has become such a vibrant venue for all sorts of events is no accident.
“It goes back to wanting to share this,” says McGinnis. “The whole reason to preserve the site was not to keep it closed off to the public. We’re getting more and more accessibility. While events are also a revenue stream to support preservation of the site, we also want people to experience it and realize the value of having the site in the region—to learn about what took place there and how it influenced the history of Pittsburgh and America.”
Michael Machosky is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.