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VOL. 126 | NO. 99 | Friday, May 20, 2011

Cookers as Important as ’Cue at Metal Museum Event

LESLEY YOUNG

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Dry or wet, shoulder or rib, Memphis is known the world over for its pork barbecue. Within the metal arts world, the Bluff City is also recognized for having one of the only institutions devoted entirely to metalwork, the Metal Museum.

Every few years smiths with a taste for ’cue scramble the two and host an art show at the museum that revolves around barbecue.

Friday the museum will host a reception for its fourth Art Cooker show since 1996 – titled this year “Art Cooker: Taste/See.”

Smiths from around the country and Canada will converge on the museum grounds atop the bluffs of the Mississippi River toting elaborate, quirky, mind-boggling or all-of-the-above handcrafted metal barbecue cookers.

The main rule – they must be functional.

“It’s great. Blacksmiths usually work over an open fire anyway, so this way they do it and you get to eat something at the same time,” said metal artist Jeff Wallin, who once worked at the museum and will display a cooker this year called the Venus Filet Trap.

“It’s like one of those steamer baskets, but about three feet in diameter and a couple of feet tall. The leaves fold in like a camera shutter and open like a flower,” Wallin, of Cobden, Ill., said. “The show is just one of those things. You get to hang out with other metal smiths and your friends and eat barbecue.”

“A cookout is an event, where people gather and get sustenance,” said event co-curator Alison Ouellette-Kirby, of St. Louis. “My husband and I look at sculpture the same way. It’s a group activity in that you always need help, moving things or with heavy casting.

“The barbecue cooker show is another way for a group of people to get together and help each other make stuff.”

Samples of salmon, turkey and, of course, pork, will be served by the artists fresh from their grills, seven in all.

Each recipe is listed next to its cooker and the artist’s bio in a catalog, which will be sold at the museum.

Bringing people together on the grounds is part of the museum’s mission. This is the first year the event, which starts at 6 p.m., has been free and open to the public.

“We want the community to know we’re here, to know what we do here, and to see what a beautiful place we have,” said Stephanie Swindle, the museum’s marketing and exhibitions coordinator. “It’s a nice opportunity for people in the community to learn about us so they can take advantage of all the services we offer.”

The museum was established in 1979, and hosts classes and exhibits, offers repairs and commission work, and sponsors internships for metal artists, as well as offering its three-plus acres for event rentals.

In an effort to extend its reach into the community, the museum has begun to host more public events, such as its first fall concert series last year, the parents-with-kids-oriented concert Rock-n-Romp, and participated in statewide and national museum free days.

“People who come out and have fun and see how different our museum is, they want to come back and bring guests with them,” Swindle said. “They get to see something that’s specifically a Memphis treasure.”

For artists like Wallin, events like the barbecue cooker show offer an opportunity to demonstrate a smith’s craftsmanship.

“It’s a chance to not only make a fun piece, but also get public exposure,” he said. “It’s all about getting your work out there, and it keeps you working.”

On the flipside, Memphians get a chance to be exposed to nationally recognized metal artists, such as Marc Maiorana, the museum’s chosen Tributaries artist and one of the Smithsonian’s chosen 40 Under 40 artists.

Friday night’s event will also feature an iron pour, during which visitors can create their own metal tiles, free ice cream and barbecue for purchase provided by CFY Catering.

The barbecue cookers will be on display on the museum grounds until July 24.

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