Professor shapes metal, students

Associate Professor Alison Pack.

Associate Professor Alison Pack has an affinity for working with metals – and molded that passion into a career as a professor and a metalsmith.

The self-proclaimed glamoursmith has an exhibit in Roanoke’s Taubman Museum of Art.  The exhibit opened Dec. 3 and runs until June 4, 2017.

Pack’s exhibit focuses on some subtle –  and some not so subtle – parts of womanhood, while also indulging tasty desserts.

These tasty metallic treats are reflected in the main piece in the exhibit, called “Baby Cakes.”

“A lot of my work is functional, but this is more playful and whimsical than a traditional tea set,” Pack said. “I hope that the viewer can bring their own narrative to the piece.” 

Cupcakes are featured in another part of Pack’s exhibit. She faced a year-long challenge when creating metallic cupcakes, which was creating a metal version of the common – and iconic – cupcake wrapper.


Pack's main exhibit at the Taubman Muesum of Art, called "Baby Cakes."

“I ended up running it through a corrugator, which crinkles it up and then I pulled it into an arc with some magical pliers,” she said. “The pliers made it look just like cupcake wrappers.”

Pack uses a process of fabrication that combines copper and sterling silver, shell forming and raising and the lost wax casting process.

“It’s a process where we make a wax model and then put a substance around it to make a hard shell,” Pack said. “Then we burn out the wax in a kiln, which leaves a void the shape of the form. We thrust molten metal into that void to get the metal object. It’s called lost wax because the wax is lost forever.”

Pack’s work utilizes conical shapes, cylinders and domes, as well as being planished.

“Planished means metal against metal, with just the weight of the hammer,” Pack said. “The face of the hammer is slightly rounded and it gets out hammer marks on the metal.”    

Pack's commemorative Barbie Cake.

Pack, a self-described thrift-store fashionista, also ties in local traditions to her work. In the New River Valley, young girls are given Barbie Cakes on their birthdays. As a local resident, Pack experienced this tradition first-hand.

“I made a piece to commemorate my 30th birthday,” Pack said. “The bouquet on the handle represents growing up. Older girls don’t get these cakes - we get flowers. The cake slice symbolized a gift of the future. I used acrylic paints to make it look like icing, I used prisma colored pencil to make it look like cake and icing on the inside of the cake slice.”

Pack passes on her passion for metal work to her students.

“I’m always teaching them and working on projects along with them,” she said. “Metal chose me. Everything that I learn and everything that I experience, it better prepares me for experiences within a classroom. Being an active artist in the industry allows me to prepare my students with first-hand experience.”

For more information on Pack’s exhibit at the Taubman Museum of Art, visit its web page. For more information on the College of Visual and Performing Arts, go to its website.

Dec 5, 2016
Max Esterhuizen
(540) 831-7749