Remote iron melt to be held by Andres Institute

BROOKLINE – Assuming the role of president of the Andres Institute of Art, 98 Route 13 in Brookline, the largest sculpture park by area in New England, completely caught seasoned veteran and strong proponent of the arts, Gail Bloom, off guard.

“It was a surprise,” she said with a laugh. “I moved up here from the Leominster/Fitchburg area about two years ago,” she said. “I wanted to move closer to my family in Milford. And I’ve been friends with John Weidman for almost 40 years and I knew about his art and the symposiums that he started here.”

Bloom said Weidman never asked a favor from her- but “just to come and visit and enjoy what was going on.” Weidman posed the question of Bloom joining their board, so she sent her resume and things clicked.

“I love being busy and I’ve come out of retirement three times before,” she said. “This fits my resume to a ‘T.’ I’m really, really happy to be working with this group. The board is very generous with their information. You can’t thank this bank of volunteers enough.”

A rough tally of volunteer hours totals more than 200 hours per week. Bloom said that number was even higher when the art institute was able to hold bingo games, a huge revenue stream for the nonprofit, cancelled because of COVID-19.

“We lost that so we have no income right now,” she said. “So, we’re trying to expand the audience for the iron melt. This is the second one we have done remotely. The first one was two times the number of people who came into it versus when we had the iron melt on site, so I think people really appreciated the safety issue.”

For those who are unfamiliar with an iron melt, volunteers make scratch boxes that are filled with sand which has a cohesiveness to it.

“When people sign-up, during the first two weeks of October, they’ll be picking up these boxes,” Bloom explained. “What they do is get some sort of small tool and carve out the negative shape of the design that they’d like to see.”

Next, the boxes are returned to AIA with an etched design complete, where they’ll be sent to the Green Foundry in Elliot, Maine for the final process of the iron melt and the pour.

“They’ll be complete the following week, and people can pick up their wonderful designs the fourth weekend of October,” Bloom said.

During the last melt, many aspiring artists considered hanging their creations in the kitchen, while others thought of the garden.

“People also do these for gift making,” Bloom said. “During the last iron melt, we had 136 and we made 200 boxes. This time, it’s hard to predict, but every year, we do have more and more people involved. It’s become a tradition for the communities.”

The pandemic hasn’t hurt AIA, as their sculptures, coupled with the beauty of nature, are presented outdoors. Bloom recalled what happened in 2008 and hoped things aren’t worse in 2020.

“So many museums that had something to offer for the arts are history,” she said. “Their attendance dropped 35 percent, but we’ve been lucky. It’s a perfect thing to do during this time. People have been very courteous on the trails, always walking aside to allow people to pass, and the trails are usually pretty clean. It’s really nice.”

The donation box that hangs at AIA has been painted bright yellow, as the institute always welcomes monetary contributions.

“You can’t miss it,” Bloom said. “John put wood chips around it and angled it. And we’ve had some very respectable donations. The response has been even greater.”

For more information, visit www.andresinstitute.org.