Fine Art Casting Comes to Randolph

Vermont Castings foundry foreman for more than three decades, Robert Wright has left the world of industrial casting and started his own art casting business in Randolph Center. It would be difficult to imagine anyone more uniquely positioned than Wright for this new business venture.

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A 1974 graduate of RUHS, Wright attended Lyndon State College for two years, contemplating a career teaching high school English. He left Lyndon, taking various entry-level jobs in the ski industry around Waitsfield until 1979, when the new state-of-the-art foundry was hiring at Vermont Castings in Randolph.

Vermont Castings founders and principals, Duncan Syme and Murray Howell, were committed to training local workers in all aspects of industrial iron casting. Bob Wright was ready to learn. Over the next few years, he received an outstanding guild education in all aspects of industrial casting for stove manufacture.

“I started as an entry-level hire on shake-out, but was rotated through every aspect of the foundry. We were on a rocket ride and had to amass a lot of talent very quickly.

“I’ll admit that, for a Randolph boy, heavy industry was at first something of a shock. We were running two shifts to supply castings; the power of producing on this scale was amazing.”

From shake-out, where the castings are broken out of sand molds, Wright went to pouring iron. “I’d been searching for what I could do for the rest of my life, and I found it. I wanted to learn more, the whole process, and gave it everything I had.”

From pouring, he went to sand processing; more than 100 tons of sand went through the foundry every hour.

Within two years after arriving as an entry-level hire, Wright joined Danny Barcombe in supervising the second shift. Two years after that, in 1982, he advanced to supervise the first shift.

“As the foundry matured, it was really important that we not rest on our laurels. It’s really competitive. I was with the day shift until 1986, and we studied and adopted Japanese manufacturing methods, improving efficiencies in every phase of the operation.”

In addition to shake-out, molding, and sand departments, Wright’s education was broadened to include time in enameling, grind and drill, research and development, and pattern-making. He became familiarized with all aspects of stove manufacture, an indispensable member of the Vermont Castings team. In 1986, at 30 years of age, he was promoted from foundry manager to general manager, and held that position until his departure in 2014.

Of his leaving he says, “I was always happy at Castings, and very pleased with the last change in ownership to HH Technologies. They’ve invested millions in the last year or two. 2014 was a good time for the company, and I’d done just about all there was to be done, and was still young enough to do something more on my own.”

The Next Phase

Wright initially tried his hand in consulting, but the travel didn’t suit him. And there was an idea, too, that he’d always wanted to explore. Over the years, many had come to him seeking bronze casting for art projects.

“It just wasn’t feasible with an operation as large as Castings. Once I was on my own, however, I began to explore possibilities in this area,” he explained.

Ready to pour, a crucible filled with molten brass is removed from the furnace by Bob Wright at Custom Castings of Vermont. (Herald / Bob Eddy)

It really was like old times. Using industry contacts and skills learned from a large industrial setting, he began the process, again, of rotating through all phases of investment casting. The self-directed research and development phase lasted a year and a half.

Before Wright opened his doors, he consulted with Glenn Campbell in West Rutland, Vermont’s only art casting foundry. Campbell, helped by Wright on occasions in the past, was ready to return the favor.

“I was encouraged to proceed by Campbell. He is working flat-out, and told me there was enough work in Vermont for two more foundries like his.”

Thus, Custom Castings of Vermont became incorporated in 2017, located in Perry Armstrong’s old Randolph Center sugar house on Route 66 toward East Randolph.

Local artists have already beaten a path to Wright’s foundry. Sculptor Chris Wilson is hard at work on a series of busts in preparation for a conference in Italy this summer. Jim Sardonis has brought a few small projects by.

By far the most exciting collaboration to date, however, is Wright’s planned casting of a life-size bronze by Karen Petersen of a Morgan horse. Petersen’s work, an ambitious undertaking for the fledgling foundry, has been commissioned by the Vermont Veterans Cemetery. Scheduled for completion this spring, its creation is a sure sign that Bob Wright’s new venture will, in time, become a vital part of the Randolph economy and the Vermont arts landscape.

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