Knapp Painting Metalcasting History

David Knapp doesn’t paint foundries to earn a few extra bucks. He simply loves the metalcasting industry and creating art.

“This is not a business,” Knapp said. “I don’t want it to be. I just like the painting part.”

Knapp, 81, works full-time in business development for Glidewell Foundry (Calera, Alabama). He’s enjoyed a long and successful career in the metalcasting business and is also an accomplished artist.

During his high school days at a military school in Baltimore, a teacher introduced Knapp to oil painting. Knapp then moved on to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for a degree in mechanical engineering, where he also painted off and on. While at Lehigh, Knapp painted a mountain scene for an art department alumni show that won first prize, before going into the metalcasting business.

Knapp was running a large steel foundry in 1971 and decided to do an oil painting of the facility.

“I was fascinated with the process,” Knapp said.

Knapp kept the painting and in 1999, a salesman from Ashland Chemical visited his home. The salesman saw the vivid work and asked to include the painting in a company calendar. Ashland (now AFS Corporate Member ASK Chemicals) sent 5,000 around the world.

“Today I still, on occasion when I visit other foundries, see my painting has been cut out of the calendar and put into a frame and into a boardroom or somebody’s office,” Knapp said.

Knapp didn’t do more paintings until about 15 years ago when he went to Glidewell. The company was putting in new machinery and the composition struck Knapp’s eye. Knapp switched to acrylics and created a painting of Glidewell.

In the last few years, he’s done paintings of 18 or 19 foundries. They’re all colorful with oranges and reds, and portray everything that happens at a foundry.

“I have learned that people do like to see the heat, the molten iron or steel,” Knapp said. “They like something that’s really big.

“My paintings are not just a photograph of what I see. They show all of the operations that go on at a facility.”

Each painting takes about two months to complete. That includes the approach to a foundry, taking photographs on multiple visits, then finally doing the painting.

The paintings are 28 in. x 42 in. in acrylics on canvas. From the originals, Knapp produces 11 x 17 color prints on card stock that are suitable for framing. And if you look closely, you might see Knapp himself in the corner of the pictures.

“We never see what goes on inside of foundries unless you have an open house,” Knapp said. “I decided I was going to try to document what the activities are in some of these foundries.”

In June, Knapp will deliver a PowerPoint at the Society for Industrial Archeology in Richmond, Virginia, telling the recent history of the foundry industry. His presentation will be enhanced by several of his paintings.

“I’ve kind of found myself as a historian,” Knapp said, “but with art.”

Knapp still wants to paint a dozen or so more foundries and thinks his art will be his contribution to the history of the industry. It’s a contribution he’s glad to make.

“It’s my retirement, let’s say, because I’m able to do what I most enjoy at this time and work for the company I work for and put it all together,” Knapp said. “When young people say ‘How did they do this?’ these paintings will show you how they did it.” 

Click here to see this story as it appears in the May 2018 issue of Modern Casting