PEORIA — Jam Lovell is going to make sparks fly in Peoria.

The sculptor and her fiance, fellow sculptor Danny Rohr, are bringing small-scale iron casting to the area. The ancient practice has been growing in popularity with sculptors around the world who gather periodically to pour iron, a complex endeavor that requires a community of well-trained individuals assigned specific tasks.

“Iron casting creates a big spectacle. It’s unique to see,” said Lovell during a phone interview Monday. “It’s like watching fireworks.”

To help start their business, Black Dog Metal Arts LLC, the pair have applied for a people’s-choice small business grant through FedEx. The public can vote for them once a day until April 1. Vote at https://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com. The top prize is $50,000.

“If we won the $50,000, we would be able to purchase equipment to do welding and casting classes sooner,” said Lovell.

Rohr and Lovell, an East Peoria native, settled in Peoria after finishing their graduate studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale last year. Impressed with the robust artist community in central Illinois, the pair decided to incorporate their business here last summer. They’re planning to build a foundry in the basement of the old Greeley School, which is being converted into an arts center. The foundry will eventually cast bronze and aluminum along with iron. While waiting for the building to be brought up to code, the pair will be casting outdoors.

“We’re working on making a mobile furnace so we can take it to different parts of Peoria, so more people can witness it,” said Lovell.

Two events are planned for this fall, a public iron pour during the Big Picture Festival in October, and an all-women pour for the Citywide Celebration of Women in the Arts in November.

“It will be the first all-women iron pour in Peoria History,” said Lovell. “I’m bringing in experienced female iron casters, friends from all over the country.” The pour will be completed by women and the work they cast will also be created by female artists. Women without any casting experience are invited to sign up and create art for the event. Email Lovell at blackdogmetalarts@gmail.com for more information.

“In April we’ll have an informational meeting to explain what’s going to happen. We will hold workshops for people with no experience to show them how to make sculpture. By the time we are pouring, everyone will have some kind of metal sculpture they made themselves.”

The event will be accompanied by an exhibition at the Prairie Center of the Arts. “Fierce: Women in Iron” will feature the work of women from all over the country. Lovell is working with Kristen Tordella-Williams, assistant professor of art at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., to put the exhibit together.

Classes are a big part of the business plan for Black Dog Metal Arts. In addition to casting, they also plan to teach welding. When the bronze and aluminum furnaces are up and running, there will be classes in that as well. And kids will learn about casting with safer processes.

“We’d like to do a weeklong kids camp over the summer. We’ll show them how to carve different materials and how to make molds off of that, and maybe do the casting in plastic because it’s safer,” said Lovell.

Of the three metals the foundry plans to cast, iron requires the most complex process. It has to be extremely hot, typically around 2,700 degrees — in contrast, aluminum typically only needs to be heated to 1,400 degrees. Buckets of coal are fed into the furnace constantly until the iron begins to flow. The whole process is very labor intensive.

“It takes a community effort to cast iron. You need a minimum of six people, but usually when we do a pour there are 20-30 people involved,” said Lovell. “And there is a lot of planning and prep work. It takes about a month or so to prep and get ready for the iron pour.”

The sense of community is what Lovell enjoys most about the process. Every year she and Rohr travel to different sites around the country to pour iron with other artists. This year they will be traveling to Birmingham, Ala., where they will try out the new cupola furnace they built with Bradley University student Taylor Fawcett. He and a team of students will do an iron pour during a competition with student teams from across the country who also built furnaces.

“We’ll be there to watch and cheer them on,” said Lovell.

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.