Iron Pour event celebrates 10th year
When ABC-TV news anchor David Muir came to town last year to give a commencement speech at UW-Madison, he made a local interview request: He wanted “to meet the girl who makes the skillets.”
That would be Alisa Toninato, who made local headlines nearly seven years ago when her cast-iron pans cast in the shape of states — one part artwork, one part handcrafted kitchenware — won over audiences on “The Martha Stewart Show” and other national media.
Since then, Toninato has grown her Madison-based company, changed its name from Cook With Pride to American Skillet Co., and expanded her line of skillets.
She’s also been busy with her second company, the more art-focused FeLion Studios.
And a year and a half ago, she became a new mom.
On Saturday, the milestones will continue for Toninato, when FeLion Studios hosts the 10th annual Pour’n Yer Heart Out Iron Pour.
The free, public indoor/outdoor art celebration generally draws up to 500 people of all ages, dazzling with a display of fiery molten iron and the creative output of artists who work with the material.
“It really fills up my creative bank,” the personable founder of Pour’n Yer Heart Out said.
“I love doing this with people who’ve never done this before. They don’t really know what to expect, and we take them through this process and give them something they can chew on. They can see the end results at the end of the day, and it’s really fulfilling.”
At Pour’n Yer Heart Out, visitors can carve their own sand molds and watch as they are cast using 2,600-degree molten iron that has been donated or salvaged from local sources. In 2018, more than 2,000 pounds of iron was melted down and cast into 150 works by community members and artists, Toninato said.
This year’s event will take place at Crucible Night Club, 3116 Commercial Ave. Visitors can arrive in late morning to purchase and carve a heart-shaped, square or custom-shaped sand mold until supplies run out. The iron pour takes place in the parking lot starting around 2 p.m.
Meanwhile, metal artists from across the Midwest will show and sell their work indoors.
“That’s really important to me — to be showing art,” Toninato said. “It’s not just a bunch of fire happening. Yes, that’s cool, but there’s also a professional outcome to this.”
Food, party, DJ
Gabriel Akagawa, a visual artist and professor at the Chicago Institute of Art, will bring his project called “Foundry Tree,” documenting the lineage of contemporary artists working with cast iron. The day will also feature food for purchase and an after-party inside Crucible with a cash bar and DJ dance party.
Students from the Milwaukee Institute of Art, where Toninato was a student and now teaches a course, will help with the iron pour, Toninato said. UW-Platteville students are also expected.
Toninato and her partner, Andrew McManigal, also do public iron pours at the summer Midwest Fire Fest in Cambridge. In July 2017, Toninato was “massively pregnant” when she directed her crew during that year’s Fire Fest, she said.
Daughter Rhea, “another Leo,” was born five days later. Now, when Toninato visits Roloff Manufacturing, the Kaukauna company that painstakingly crafts her American Skillet pans, she usually takes her daughter and fits in a visit with family in nearby Green Bay, where Toninato grew up.
Roloff Manufacturing, she said, is able to meet the high standards needed to produce her state-shaped skillets, which retail online for $130.
“American Skillet is like a mass-produced art piece — or very, very small manufacturing,” Toninato said. “So it’s still in this weird world of very high-end, low-volume pieces.”
American Skillet currently offers cast-iron pans in the shape of the continental U.S., plus Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Oklahoma, Texas and best-selling Wisconsin. Both Crate & Barrel and the department store chain Dillard’s picked up some of the company’s line for a time. American Skillet also sells on the websites Amazon, Etsy, Americanskilletcompany.com and at 60 retailers nationwide. FeLion Studios focuses on corporate commissions and custom cookware.
An artist before she became an entrepreneur, Toninato is especially proud that this year’s Pour’n Yer Heart Out will showcase the work of fellow artists who work with metal year-round, she said.
“This is something that’s been missing,” she said.
“It’s just wildly interesting, because everybody’s got a very, very different” style. “Some people are doing figurative stuff. Some people are very abstract or very experimental. Some people are using glass or bronze.”
“I’m proud that we have a reputation for this pour,” she said. “And it’s a become huge public community event, at a time of year when it’s really hard to find things to do.”