GVSU student begins 36th year

GVL / Kevin Sielaff
86-year-old metalsmithing student, Ann Dilley, works in the Calder Art Center Tuesday, September 1st, 2015. Dilley, inspired by her mother, has been a student at Grand Valley for the past 35 years.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff 86-year-old metalsmithing student, Ann Dilley, works in the Calder Art Center Tuesday, September 1st, 2015. Dilley, inspired by her mother, has been a student at Grand Valley for the past 35 years.

Meghan McBrady

As many freshmen nervously start their first week of classes, with many seniors readying themselves for their final year, one student returns to Grand Valley State University to transform trinkets into an art form.

Ann Dilley, 86, is a jewelry and metalsmithing student who has attended GVSU for the past 36 years. A non-degree seeking student, Dilley simply attends classes for the pleasure of academics and learning.

“I take pleasure in going out there and having companionship with the students,” Dilley said. “It’s a big part of why I’m still here, still creating.”

Dilley’s passion for art first blossomed when she was a child and made clothes for her paper dolls. She would later pursue an art education at Connecticut College in the 1940s.

Initially an art major, Dilley later graduated with a degree in English literature in 1950 and then move to Grand Rapids in 1952 with her new husband – later becoming a mother of three and a grandmother of four.

It wasn’t until 1968, due to a visit by Dilley’s mother, that her passion for jewelry making would be fully realized.

“My mother gave me this little white box was full of unset cameos and stones and all I could say was, ‘What’s this?’” Dilley said. “The contents were hoarded by past family members who had no interest in using the stones and my mother gave the box to me and I used them making one of my first necklaces and I haven’t stopped since.”

As her passion for jewelry making grew stronger, Dilley began taking classes in a friend’s basement, which would eventually lead her and the class into attending a presentation at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

It was at the museum where Dilley met Beverly Seley, a professor of metalsmithing and the coordinator of the jewelry and metalsmithing program at GVSU, who spoke about the opportunities within the department of art and design and of her own work.

“During my sabbatical, I was giving a speech about the metalsmithing class that I taught at Grand Valley and Ann was there with a group of women,” Seley said. “When my sabbatical ended that next semester, Ann was there in my class and never left.”

Seley conveyed what was admirable about Dilley – “my best friend” – is that she is a great risk-taker and innovator. Whether it be making necklaces out of thimbles or by turning cufflinks into earrings, she indicated that Dilley firmly establishes a dedication to creativity and experimentation, something that intrigues and inspires her younger students.

“At first my students would not talk or interact with her, but they all adore her once they find out she is like them, a student,” Seley said. “The sheer fact that someone her age is passionate about learning and working with all of these young and bright students really sets a fabulous example of what we should grow and aspire to be in our futures.”

To celebrate her passion for metalsmithing arts and dedication to lifelong learning, Dilley’s family established the Ann Dilley Jewelry/Metalsmithing scholarship as a present for her 86th birthday in 2014. The scholarship gives preference to non-degree seeking or part-time students in the jewelry and metalsmithing program.

“This couldn’t have pleased me more as I know how expensive it is and no gift could have given me more pleasure then to see that this will help someone, no matter the major, so that they too can get pleasure from their craft,” Dilley said.

As Dilley readies herself for the new school year, she conveyed that while she does not know what the future may bring or what classes she may take, she will not stop using her hands and she will not stop attending GVSU.

“I hope to never stop working with my hands,” Dilley said. “There are always things that you can do and make, which can be challenging at times, as the metals are a challenge, but I never want to stop creating and imagining.”

For further information about the department of art and design or about the Ann Dilley Jewelry/Metalsmithing scholarship, visit www.gvsu.edu/art.