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Molding The Past, Teaching The Future

December 1, 2011, 10:07 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Molding The Past, Teaching The Future
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Some Augustana College students are learning about ancient history by making masks out of metal.

This week, the students in a primitive art class were given the unique experience of making their own bronze masks as they study different eras of history.

"It's amazing how excited they get when they see the molten metal pouring, it's kind of a highlight I guess," Bronze Smith and Augustana College Alum Rick Haugen said.

Pouring out bronze at 2,300 degrees isn't your typical day in the classroom, but Augustana Professor Adrien Hannus hopes it's a lesson that will stick with the students.

"The idea is each student chooses a culture that they are interested in, and chooses a mask that they are going to make a replica of," Hannus said.

Each student in Hannus' class designed their own mask.

"The masks are traditional masks either from the northwest coast of North America, the oceanic area, or Africa," Hannus said.

And thanks to Haugen this semester the students are getting the rare opportunity to cast their masks in bronze.

Haugen casts bronze for a living. He's made bronze plaques for Falls Park, and even makes the Rudy award for college football players. Hannus contacted him about this project.

"He thought it would be fun for the students to create their masks directly and then we would cast them for the students so then they'll get to have a bronze mask," Haugen said.

Haugen says it's rare for students to get this chance because casting something in bronze is expensive. A life-size statue could cost up to $10,000.

"What's really fortunate for us here is that normally students, unless they were taking a sculpture class in art that was doing bronze casting, there would be a very limited reason for them ever to experience this," Hannus said.

And that's why Hannus hopes this experience will drive home the lessons being learned in the course.

"The students finish their mask and then in turn do a research paper that deals with a particular culture that the mask came from explaining how that mask was used in that culture in its traditional form," Hannus said.

And students, like senior art major Sarah Zobrist who was taking pictures of the entire process, are grateful for this rare opportunity.

"It was really exciting and beautiful. Just the experience of making the wax masks, and watching them pour was just beautiful," Zobrist said.

An opportunity to make a mold of the past while teaching the future.

"I am an art major but I've never seen anything like this before. It was really a treat," Zobrist said.

Even the art of bronze casting itself is a history lesson. Hannus says the technique goes back 4,000 years and was started in either China or Africa.

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