Cast iron figures have made the Kasli factory well known all over the world. Situated in the South Urals, the merchant Yakov Korobkov founded the Kasli Iron-Smelting Plant in 1747. The region had good iron ore deposits and wood for making charcoal as fuel for smelting and casting, and also had good deposits of high quality sand for moulding.
In 1752 the Kasli Plant was purchased by Nikita Demidov, a famous owner of numerous plants in the Ural and Siberia. It was making iron for re-working, agricultural implements and also cannon. Demidov’s iron had its own trademark – two rampant sabers.
In the 19th century, it became renowned for its artistic iron casting. It was favoured by the fact that Kasli harboured great reserves of quality mould sands, and timber to produce coal.
Architectural castings such as railings, garden benches, and tombstone bas-reliefs appeared in the 1850’s. In the 1860-1890s the art and craft of iron casting reached its peak. It won medals at the World Exhibitions in Paris (1867), in Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Copenhagen (1888), Stockholm (1897) and again in Paris (1900).
It was at Paris that Kasli produced their most famous work.
The design was undertaken by a young St Petersburg architect called Evgeniy Baumgarten in 1898. He sought to demonstrate that cast iron was not only a good construction material but also good for sculptures and artistic works. The work began in 1899 and sixteen craftsmen produced a total of 3,000 parts. By the end of the year the pavilion was ready. The structure had been assembled and disassembled several times to avoid any mistakes and the parts were carefully packed and sent to France. The Kasli craftsmen also went to Paris taking their production equipment with them in case any part would have to be produced on the spot. They also took charcoal, cast iron, fine moulding sand should repairs be required.
Above images of the Kasli works reproduced courtesy of the Library of Congress
Paris Exposition in 1900
To adorn the pavilion Kasli plant produced cast-iron replicas of several works by French sculptors, including Jeanne d'Arc and the Flying Mercury. A cast-iron figure of a young woman in plate armour symbolising Russia was installed by the entrance.
The pavilion was the work of many sculptors and founders of course, a complex showcase for the skill of the Kasni founders. The sculpture of Russia attracted much interest, giving rise to the phrase “Russia is not for sale” when approaches were declined. The sculpture currently resides in the Kremlin.
It lay in storage for many years at the works and was eventually restored and re-constructed and is now on display at the Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts.
The sculptural work the foundry is most famous for is remarkable. Lost wax casting using cast iron rather than bronze and finishing with simple black paint meant decoration for the masses.