The smoke smelled like campfire and the flames glowed green Friday as a group of about 125 Springville students got to do something no other fifth-graders in the state have done -- participate in a pouring of molten bronze on school grounds.
The students supplied the sand molds, then watched in the damp chill of the Springville Elementary soccer field as sculptors Simon Griffis and Ken Payne and their assistants heated an assortment of metal gears and scrap to 2,100 degrees -- enough to melt the disks and chunks as they were dropped into a garbage can-sized portable forge.
The copper in the bronze lent a luminescent tinge to the withering flames at the mouth of the oven.
"That's 100 degrees hotter than a volcano," one girl told Payne's assistant, Kelly Nicometo. "I pay attention."
The children -- and a healthy helping of adults -- were all paying attention as the sculpture crew took the top off the forge and lifted out the crucible -- a small bucket of liquid bronze, glowing red and yellow.
Then the sculptors poured the metal -- about the consistency of a milkshake -- into the molds into which the students had cut their designs.
After an afternoon and early evening of pouring, every student had their own bronze relief, ready for "chasing" -- or finishing -- and taking home the bronze relief next week.
The project is the first of its kind at a school in New York State, Griffis said, and maybe the only one in the nation.
It was funded through an Erie County Arts in Education grant and conducted in cooperation with the Ashford Hollow Foundation, St. Bonaventure University's Regina Quick Center and Buffalo State College, where Payne teaches.
Springville art teacher Becky Szpaicher coordinated the project and found a surprisingly easy sell with administrators, despite factors such as the 2,100-degree metal and the two 100-pound propane tanks needed to heat it.
"I said, 'I think it sounds like a great idea,' " Principal Scott Tellgren said, "because Mrs. Szpaicher has come up with a lot of great ideas, and I knew that she would have her t's crossed, and because she was working with professionals."
Aaron Kroll, one of the fifth-graders, said his mother was concerned about it when she first heard of the idea but was won over when she heard the details.
"It was pretty hard with all the carving," said Aaron, who carved a vulture image for his mold.
"I thought there was going to be a lot more fire," said Chelsea Zalikowski, "because on the video when they were doing it, they were doing bigger molds. But this is really cool."
The students also learned about things such as Egyptian bronze art and the fact that bronze is about 90 percent copper and 10 percent tin, and what it takes to melt the metals.
"It's definitely interesting," said Szpaicher. "They usually only do these in foundries."