Inspiration and teapots: SURF provides a master metalsmithing opportunity for an art major

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Keela Dooley

Keela Dooley is hand raising a teapot. Photo by Lora Gordon, University Relations.

It starts with flat piece of metal. Then slowly, through a process known as hand raising, the metal changes into a three dimensional object. In this case the transformation involves turning a sheet of sterling silver into a tea set by Keela Dooley, afforded through a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).

This is an opportunity for Dooley’s future as an artistic metalsmith. She is currently a Radford University art major with a concentration in the jewelry/metalsmithing studio arts.

“Working with a more dense metal such as sterling silver leads to becoming a master metalsmith. While working with copper is more affordable and workable – sterling silver is very expensive and more difficult to form. Working with such large amount of silver is not a normal classroom assignment for an undergraduate metalsmithing student due to the cost and the shear time commitment,” she said.

Becoming a master metalsmith is a goal for Dooley. She believes the finished tea set is vital to her graduate school application portfolio, as it will help her stand out amongst other applicants. She said the project will prove her understanding of the physical working properties of sterling silver through the hand raising process.

Dooley’s mentor is Associate Professor Alison Pack.

“Keela enrolled in my class her sophomore year at Radford University. She was taking my beginning metals class as an elective. At the time her chosen major was geology. Working with copper, silver, and gemstones; elements from the earth piqued her interest and she was eager to manipulate them to cultivate her artistic talents. After a couple more classes it was clear that metals chose her,” Pack said.

As Dooley’s artistic voice gained volume through her class assignments, she changed her major to studio art with a B.F.A. concentration in metalsmithing and jewelry design.

Dooley credits Pack with supporting her throughout this project. Pack spent hours helping her with the grant proposal, research and design, and technical assistance. It was Pack who taught her several hand raising techniques, originally for small-scale art pieces. Now she encourages Dooley to work on bigger items, such as teapots.

Pack’s work is also an inspiration to Dooley, “Her hand raised sterling silver tea set, ‘Babycakes,’ inspired me to have fun with the design and express my artistic voice though the narrative.”

Dooley’s narrative for the tea set is about rebelling against expectations for young southern women. Specifically, she focuses on southern belles who are expected to marry well and become ladies of society dedicated to family and community. As a young southern woman, Dooley instead concentrates on her education and establishing herself. Her piece is a humorous way of expressing these thoughts.

Her choice process is a difficult method, though. Hand raising involves hammering sheet metal against a steel form known as a stake. By holding the metal at a 30-degree angle against the stake, this creates an air pocket, allowing the metal to move.

“Keeping a close eye on the metal is very important because if the metal is not annealed (a heat treatment that alters the physical and chemical properties of metal to increase its ductility and to make it more workable) after it is work hardened the metal will crack,” Dooley explained.

The time Pack spent as a mentor to Dooley was personally enriching, “Working with Keela has been a terrific experience! I have learned just as much from her as she has learned from me and not only from my instruction. Our mutual respect for each other and collaborative problem solving has strengthened our bond. She is a spectacular young woman and artist. She is most deserving of financial assistance through this grant opportunity.”

Another influence on Dooley’s work is master metalsmith Harlan Butt, thanks to his enameling and cloisonné workshop at RU during fall 2013. He specializes in vessel making. During the workshop Dooley found her artistic interests significantly changed. His intricacies with metal inspired her and she discovered she wanted to dedicate her studies to hand raising hollow forms.

Dooley thanks SURF for the opportunities they provided in helping obtain her goals. They provided funding for the tea set, as well as extracurricular events, such as hiking and breaks for the researchers. She also found the Scholarly Outreach Research Engagement (SCORE) program beneficial. She now has a better understanding on how to document her research.

For more information on the Department of Art, visit or to learn about the SURF program, visit the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship at to

Aug 21, 2014