How did you first get involved in art?
In second grade, I remember doing a drawing, and I can't remember if was the attention from others or if it was something internal - I suspect some of both - but I knew then that I wanted to be an artist. Of course, in retrospect, I had no idea what that really meant.
Coming from a creative family with a strong work ethic, I can't remember a time when I wasn't involved in making or building something. I have fond memories of doing handcrafts with my grandmother at church, sewing and cooking with my mother, and working on cars with my Dad. He showed me how to use an oxy-acetylene torch when I was twelve and a few years later we built the family home.
Do you have any formal art-training?
I attended a baptist high school that didn't have the resources for any art classes, but my senior year I was granted permission take a ceramics course at the community college. That was my first formal training.
After graduation, I enrolled full time at Illinois Central College and completed my A.A.S in 1981. The painting and sculpture facilities were located next to each other and, during the summer, courses met Monday through Friday back to back: four hours of painting with Professor Emeritus Fred Hentchel and four hours of sculpture with Professor Wayne Forbes, who has recently passed. Those two summers were key in my artistic development.
Initially, I thought that painting would be my focus, until I took my first sculpture course and realized that I had an affinity for the processes and materials. Although Fred and Wayne were masters at their craft, they always stressed the marriage of idea and media. It wasn't about painting or sculpture, it was about communication.
Continuing my education, I studied Sculpture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with Professor Emeritus Roger Blakley, receiving a B.F.A. in 1983 and a Masters in Art Education in 1986. Roger introduced me to metal casting and that was it, I was hooked. Several years later, while working as a technician for the Art Department at UIUC, we produced a video on Lost Wax Bronze Casting.
When it came time to look into MFA programs, fire had become my favorite tool and pouring liquid metal was about the best kick ever, in addition to its potential for making sculpture. I researched schools with foundry programs and was accepted to study at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with Professor Emeritus Thomas Walsh, where I earned an M.F.A. in 1989. Tom was a tireless academic and an outstanding coordinator. Simply put, he made things happen by managing a prolific visiting artist program that exposed the students to new ways of thinking and working. It was his invitation of Julius Schmidt, and the introduction of cast iron that (after several years of honing my skills), allowed me to serve as Co-Director for the 6th International Conference on Cast Iron Art in Kidwelly, Wales with Andy Griffiths, Course Leader at Carmarthen School of the Arts.
What was it that captured your heart about metal casting?
At first, it was the use of heat to transform solid metal into a liquid and the element of danger. It’s primitive yet sophisticated. Although we have energy-efficient furnaces now and precision casting investments, all foundry processes involve two elements that have been consistent since humans began pouring metal: binders and refractories, usually clay bodies and sand.
Metal is stable, yet malleable. You can beat it, heat it, grind it, weld it, and even very thin parts have structural integrity. I really enjoy the process of mold-making, changing a positive form to a negative and back to a positive. Ultimately though, it all rests on how it can be used communicate my ideas.
C.W. Ammen, author of The Metalcaster's Bible, infers that a person can work a lifetime and never know everything about the process, and he was correct. Foundry work is continual problem-solving with complete physical involvement. The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know, and that pushes me to the next inquiry.
Where & from whom do you draw inspiration? Why do you create art?
By incorporating narrative and iconographic imagery, often with a humorous edge, my ideas are inspired by the experiences of living and the study of Theology. Often they are shaped by music, literature, film, outdoor adventures, and hot rod culture. I purposely embrace logical fallacies and seemingly contradictory materials, with the intent to elicit a giggle from the viewer as a gentle introduction to the weightier philosophical questions of faith, hope, purpose, and being that we all navigate.
In addition to the professors whom I have indicated, I could fill a page with the names of people whose work has influenced me. So, my top ten would include: H.C. Westermann, James Rosenquist, C.S. Lewis, Martin Puryear, William Morris, Frank Zappa, Monty Python, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Woody Allen, James Surls, and Flannery O'Connor.
Teachers definitely have a huge part in shaping futures and it sounds like you had a fair share of excellent mentors and instructors. As an instructor, what do you strive to communicate to your own students?
Become your own best critic. Keep your hands busy while engaging your mind; continually ask what is it you are attempting to communicate, what is the work actually revealing? What if…?
My standard mantra is "Why?". Initially, that frustrates most students but, in the end, my majors grow to especially appreciate the challenge. I know when I see a furrowed brow after a conversation that I'm doing my job. Being an artist is a journey that everyone who takes art courses is not necessarily going to commit to pursuing. However, we all should aspire to be thinking, productive citizens, and problem-solving skills are important to all aspects of life.
What is your connection with the Foundry Art Centre? How did you discover it?
While doing an Internet search for exhibition opportunities, I became aware of the Foundry Art Centre. My first thought was, "Cool, I wonder if this gallery is dedicated to foundry processes." Reading further, I discovered the announcement of the "Luck of the Draw" exhibition. That was more fortuitous because, since 2007, I have been using images of superstition and luck in my work, embracing a variety of materials.
What are you currently working on?
As well as designing an addition to our home, I am making major shop improvements. After 27 years in higher education, the last 20 at Kansas State University, I am retiring from teaching to pursue public art opportunities. In the studio, I have a 13 foot-long cast iron wishbone that needs to be assembled, a 10-foot rabbit head that will be cast in aluminum, and am constructing a 12-foot duck using boat-building techniques. The goal is to find homes for these pieces where I can incorporate landscaping features.
What do you enjoy doing aside from art?
Besides making sculpture, I love cooking for family (and hearing the moans of satisfaction from my efforts), embroidering patches on my work clothes, and customizing old cars.
View the award-winning artwork of Daniel Hunt in Gallery II of "Luck of the Draw" before the exhibition closes on Friday, April 21, 2017.
Article by Jillian Schoettle.