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A Lifelong Learner

Alumna and JEM instructor Killean Evans took over the running of FASCU instructor Jonathan Russell’s casting business, handling a wide variety of projects 

By Nina Tabios

Back in 2007, Killean Evans arrived at the Academy of Art University to receive an arts education. When she graduated in 2010 from the School of Fine Art—Sculpture (FASCU), she left the school not only with her M.F.A. degree in hand but with the knowledge, passion, and connections to be a working artist, teacher and business owner all at once.

Fast forward to 2018 and Evans, who also teaches at the School of Jewelry & Metal Arts (JEM), is the owner of JR Casting, a foundry located in San Francisco’s Bayview district. Unlike most working artists, Evans didn’t build JR Casting from the ground up; instead, she inherited it from former FASCU instructor Jonathan Russell.

“Running the casting business is a great joy to me,” Evans said. “I’m taking someone else’s thoughts and ideas and helping them get it to another material, getting it closer to the final piece—it’s very rewarding to be able to do all of that.”

She started working for Russell part-time during her graduate studies, eventually taking over running the day-to-day operations. Russell, wanting to focus on public sculpture work, handed the keys over to Evans in 2014.

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Commercial and independent artists can get all kinds of metalworking done at JR Casting, including gold casting. Photo courtesy of Killean Evans.

“She’s a really fast learner, great attitude, the person you hope you could find to work for you,” said Russell, who taught Evans in both FASCU beginner and advanced casting classes. “By the time she took over the business, there was no doubt she could run it.”

Not much has changed since Evans took over. JR Casting handles tons of projects—small and large scale, commercial and artisanal—serving its loyal clientele from the last 25 years. The students from her fall casting classes (JEM 164: Centrifugal & Vacuum Casting 1, JEM 275 Welding and Smithing) are also granted access to, “work with the material and as they continue on, they have this connection [to the foundry],” Evans explained.

Casting can be messy and time-consuming, but Evans believes understanding these processes will make collaborating with casters much easier: “It’ll help [students] to be that much more successful if they know the kind of weird rules, do’s and don’ts of the casting business,” she emphasized.

Evans considers herself a lifetime learner (“You’ll never really know everything,” she commented), but one thing she always knew was that she wanted to teach. JEM Director Charlene Modena remembers Evans always in her ear about teaching. After graduating, inquiring emails from Evans were regular occurrences at the top of each semester.

“When it came time to hire an instructor to develop and teach a new JEM course (Welding & Smithing) Evans’ name immediately came first,” Modena said. “Already a successful artist and business owner, I could think of no-one better suited to share [her] skills and experience.”

Evans’ teaching philosophy is wholly about sharing knowledge and experimentation. Though most of her time is spent teaching and running the foundry, Evans develops her own contemporary art with a focus on fold-forming steel. Her sculptures center on juxtaposing ideas around her own identity and existence, giving credit to the years spent at the Academy in helping find her voice and the right ways to express it.

But what drives her is the never-ending desire to learn and discover something new throughout every facet of her career. With so many roles to play at once—artist, instructor, business owner—Evans’ roots at the Academy gave her the tools to thrive in any of her endeavors.

“You’re here to take this opportunity to figure out these things and see if it works for your art,” Evans encouraged. “All the time you put into [school] is an investment in your future in learning how to express yourself.”

“The fun part of [knowing Evans] was watching her grow,” Russell said. “I saw her go through an amazing kind of growth curve in the studio, outside the studio; in her art and outside of her art.”

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