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Professor educates about a common, but overlooked artistic process through new book

  • Photo of Renee Zettle-Sterling and Jen Townsend

Posted on September 21, 2017

A new book produced by a Grand Valley professor is aiming to introduce readers around the world to a common artistic practice that produces many objects people use every day, including toilet seats, car parts and plumbing tubes.

Renee Zettle-Sterling, professor of jewelry and metalsmithing, foundations and sculpture, co-authored this comprehensive book on the process known as casting.

CAST: Art and Objects Made Using Humanity’s Most Transformational Process is the culmination of a three-year collaboration between Zettle-Sterling and Jen Townsend, a New York City-based artist. 

Casting is a manufacturing process where a liquid material is usually poured into a mold or hollow cavity and allowed to solidify to form a desired shape. The publication utilizes approximately 800 pictures and artist essays to highlight the varying casting methods and the materials that can be shaped through the process. The book's chapters focus on different subjects, such as art history, and the impact of casting throughout the world. 

Zettle-Sterling said the book is prevalent in the modern world because people don’t realize how many things around them are cast, such as plastic chair backings. The book was originally planned to only include information about jewelry and casting, but it eventually expanded to include ceramics, glass and more.

“The goal of the book was to write something that not just artists would love.” Zettle-Sterling said. “My 99-year-old grandmother read it from cover to cover and she couldn’t believe how much in our world is cast.” 

Zettle-Sterling said she was inspired to work on this project because of a lack of books about casting, and the fact that most of the books that do exist are technical manuals.

Zettle-Sterling and Townsend will speak about the book on November 3, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at SOFA (Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design), located in Chicago. A book signing will follow. 

The book is available for purchase at Barnes and Noble, Schiffer Publishing, and on Amazon. The book was also recently added to the gift store located inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

Zettle-Sterling has a very personal connection to the process of casting because she uses the art form as a way to honor her brother, Tommy, who died in 2002.

“I directly burn out parts of his clothing and cast them in bronze,” she said. “The process burns away the original scrap of fabric, but even though the scrap of clothing is gone, I’ve gained a kind of permanence through the process.”

For more information about the book, visit


- Story written by Marissa LaPorte, University Communications student writer