Rachelle Thiewes is an artist based in the Chihuahuan desert of West Texas, where she creates jewelry that is designed to engage and challenge the wearer, making them an active participant, an initiator of sounds and body rhythms. Light, movement, sound, order and chaos are integral elements of her work.

Thiewes’s jewelry is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Museums of Scotland, Victoria & Albert Museum, Metal Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Cooper Hewitt, Yale University Art Gallery, and the Museum of Arts & Design, among others. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including Inspired Jewelry: From the Museum of Arts and Design, Craft for a Modern World, Jewellery in Europe and America: New Times New Thinking, One of a Kind: American Art Jewelry, American Craft and Metalsmith.

In 2009, Thiewes was named Texas Master by the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and the Stanlee & Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts honored her with the Access & Excellence in the Arts Award in 2014. In 2023 the Metal Museum awarded her the title Master Metalsmith. Thiewes is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship, the University of Texas Regents Outstanding Award for Teaching, and Distinguished Achievement Awards for Research and Teaching at the University of Texas El Paso where she is Professor Emerita in the Department of Art.

Thiewes has been living in the El Paso area for close to forty years, and her time there has inspired much of her work. The mountainous desert, the blistering sun, the Lowrider car culture – all have awakened her senses and become essential elements within her pieces. Much of Thiewes’s early work contains forms like spiculums (sharp, spear-like shapes) and disks (smooth, rounded shapes) which she uses to comment on gender roles and assumptions. Sound and movement are also integral elements of her jewelry, which often produces sound. Through Thiewes’s rhythmic structure of these gendered forms, she creates pieces that empower women, declaring that they will command every room they enter.

As her career progressed, Thiewes took these themes of feminism a step further through her use of movement, light and color. Her work transitioned from having movement and creating sound to having the appearance of movement and creating sound. The gendered disks became bigger, more open, and they looked as if they were in mid-twirl, creating optical illusions. These pieces also play with color and light in a different way from her previous works. Seeing the thriving Lowrider car culture in El Paso inspired Thiewes to dive head-first into the possibilities of color. The way the metallic flecks reflected the light of these lowriders sparked a new approach to creating her statement pieces. Vibrant ochres, purples, chartreuses and reds dominate her work now, with each piece’s color being carefully considered in various lights.

Rachelle Thiewes wants all who wear her jewelry to feel empowered and to feel like they are part of the piece’s story. She believes the woman that wears her jewelry activates the unique, eye-catching qualities of the pieces, through her own strength and character. Without the woman, her pieces are only at half their potential.

Laura Hutchison Bhatti
Metal Museum, HUED exhibition

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