Interviews

United States

Rachelle Thiewes


Libby and Joanne Cooper
Libby and Joanne Cooper

Susan Cummins: What is your background and how did you come to be interested in art jewelry?

Rachelle Thiewes
Rachelle Thiewes, HEAT, Earrings, steel, auto paint, 3.25

In many ways I was destined to become a jeweler. My father was a hand engraver, freelancing for many jewelry stores, including Tiffany. I spent countless hours in the studio watching him engrave and often accompanied him to our local jewelry stores when delivering work. I have two older brothers that are artists so it seemed natural that I too would study art. I had no idea that ‘metals’ was an art subject until I saw the first student show at Western Illinois University. I was fascinated by the possibilities of the medium and quickly changed over my major from sculpture to metals.

 

Libby and Joanne Cooper

Susan Cummins: What is your background and how did you come to be interested in art jewelry?

Rachelle Thiewes, HEAT, Earrings, steel, auto paint, 3.25 x 0.75 inches

In many ways I was destined to become a jeweler. My father was a hand engraver, freelancing for many jewelry stores, including Tiffany. I spent countless hours in the studio watching him engrave and often accompanied him to our local jewelry stores when delivering work. I have two older brothers that are artists so it seemed natural that I too would study art. I had no idea that ‘metals’ was an art subject until I saw the first student show at Western Illinois University. I was fascinated by the possibilities of the medium and quickly changed over my major from sculpture to metals.

Who are your mentors?

I have a couple of artist friends working in a range of mediums that I depend upon to give straight feedback on my work. 

You are now a professor at UTEP in El Paso Texas. Can you tell me about a favorite assignment you give to your students?

Rachelle Thiewes, HEAT, Bracelet, steel, auto paint, 4 x 1.5 inches
Rachelle Thiewes

I spend a fair amount of time weekly hiking in the desert, negotiating cactus, small and large rocks and in the hot months, rattlesnakes. It forces me to be very aware of all my body’s movements, large and small. I may get hurt if I lose my focus. Three years ago I let up my guard, fell and severely broke my right wrist requiring surgery with a plate and lots of screws. My jewelry has always challenged the wearer in some respect, forcing their body to focus and adapt or suffer a prick to the skin or damage to the piece.

And then there is the light. The luminous energy of light that baths the desert can swiftly transform from sharp and shrieking to subtle and sensual, all within a day’s time. Capturing the refraction and dispersal of light with my jewelry through the orchestration of body motion has held my fascination for decades and continues to challenge and inform my ideas of light.

You use iridescent auto paint to color your jewelry. Are you interested in custom cars?

Yes! I had no experience with custom cars until my husband and I moved to El Paso in the late 1970s. I still clearly remember driving around downtown El Paso one Sunday morning, stopping at a red light and watching in amazement as the car in front of us did ‘hydraulics.’ I’ve been hooked ever since. I generally attend one or two local lowrider shows each year and this past November attended my first SEMA show in Las Vegas to research new paints. I must say, I was in heaven, hundreds of custom cars on view with fabulous paint jobs.

Rachelle Thiewes, Slip Stream, Neckpiece, steel, auto paint, 11.25 x 11 x 1.5 inches

I wanted for my work to have a ‘kinetic’ quality without the application of actual moving parts and the kameleon, kandy and pearl paints became another vehicle for controlling light, which has been the primary focus of my jewelry since 1999.

What book or movie has affected you recently?

Book:  I Wonder by Marian Bantjes. It is visually beautiful and provides much to think about.

What music do you usually listen to while you are working?

It changes daily although I listen to a fair amount of jazz and have been particularly influenced by the music of John Coltrane. My husband is a musician and we have new recordings coming into the house literally on a daily basis. Our collection is quite large and very eclectic, ranging from rock, jazz, blues, ethnic, classical, etc. On a given day I might listen to McCoy Tyner, Badi Assad, Ukan Ogur, Curved Air and Ane Brun. Always CDs or records (not through my computer or iPod) for quality sound.

Author

  • Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of AJF and California College of the Arts.

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