Fire destroyed sculptor Andrew DeVries' foundry, now friends gather in support

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LENOX — He remembers hearing a pop followed by a boom. Then, Andrew DeVries found himself running through a field toward his house in Middlefield.

It's roughly 1,500 feet from the foundry space at his River Studio complex, his sculpting space, which had just gone up in flames.

His wife, Patricia Purdy, who was in the house, came running from the other direction.

"She didn't know what was going on and ran out hysterical," DeVries said. "I met her halfway in the field looking like hell. My hair was all singed and I had a burn on my right forehead."

DeVries had been in the foundry when the explosion occurred on the day before Thanksgiving. Except for those minor injuries he was OK. But the foundry didn't survive.

DeVries believes that a recently installed propane gas line had ruptured, which caused the gas to ignite on flames in the furnace located just outside the foundry where he pours molten bronze for his award-winning sculptures that are displayed in public and private collections on six continents. The fire then spread to the structure, which was made of wood.

Firefighters from four towns responded to the scene, but there was little they could do. DeVries' foundry studio, his equipment and many of his casting molds were gone. To make matters worse, DeVries had been unable to obtain insurance for River Studio due to its location. He needs $90,000 just to rebuild the structure, and more to replace the equipment. It's an out-of-pocket expense that he has to assume himself.

But, now DeVries has some help. On March 3, the Lenox Chamber of Commerce will host a benefit gala for DeVries and Purdy at the Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum on Walker Street. The event will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $50. All proceeds from the ticket sales will go to DeVries and Purdy, who have operated a gallery on Church Street in Lenox for many years.

"He's given so much to the community, it's karma," said Jamie Trie, marketing director for the Lenox chamber. "If anybody ever needed anything for events or donations, they (DeVries and Purdy) were always right there giving out artwork or a check. They've been supportive of people here. Turnaround is fair play.

"As soon as I put the event on Facebook I was approached by numerous people about how can I help," Trie said. "They are very, very loved."

This is more than just a chamber event. Two local merchants have donated beer and wine for the gala, and the chamber also has received several offers for items to be used in a silent auction. Drawings that managed to survive the fire slightly singed have been framed by another merchant and will be on display.

Ventfort Hall also has sentimental value for the couple: DeVries and Purdy were married there in 2005.

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DeVries said he is surprised and touched by the outpouring of community support, which began shortly after the fire took place.

The first donation the couple received came two days after the fire from Joshua Needleman, who owns Chocolate Springs Cafe in Lenox, and has been a longtime friend of the couple.

"He said, 'You wait. You'll see. People will get behind you,' " DeVries said Needleman told him. "The artwork does touch people. It does make such a difference in people's lives. I was just really overwhelmed as I have been from everyone who has lent support."

Meanwhile, DeVries has been trying to practice his craft without the benefit of a studio.

"Basically, I have no way to cast metal," he said. "I can sculpt in the barn studio and do rubber molds. But it's like missing a leg."

A friend in Rutland, Vt., who owns a foundry similar to the one DeVries lost, is letting him do some rough casting there. Purdy also applied for and received a $4,500 grant from an emergency fund, and has also set up a GoFundMe page. Town officials in Middlefield have been supportive as DeVries gets ready to rebuild.

"They've been just super with me," he said. "They've given me the green light to go ahead and rebuild on the same footprint. I'm hoping to get the shell of the building up by next winter. I'm doing that so I can work on the inside in the winter. I'm not a fan of working outside in the snow."

Working with liquid bronze can be dangerous. An alloy containing 95 percent copper, bronze has to be melted to be molded, and it doesn't melt until it reaches 2,250 degrees Fahrenehit. To protect himself during the pouring process, DeVries wears a metal mask and a coat with material similar to the garments that firefighters wear.

"That's why the building was so far away," DeVries said, referring to the distance between his house and former studio. "Having the casting studio that far away was intentional in case something did happen so that nothing else would be touched."

Trie said the chamber has sold 40 tickets so far.

"Everybody's coming together for them," she said. "It's really nice."

Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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