Light, Movement, Chaos: The Art of Rachelle Thiewes

By on June 13, 2014

Make Plans: 

Rachelle Thiewes: Something Gleams (a retrospective)

UTEP’s Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts

Opening reception 5-7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 26

Exhibit open through Sept. 27

More information at


From now through September, one spot on campus is glittering with jewelry that is more than bling.

Metalsmith and jewelry maker Rachelle Thiewes — who has been teaching at UTEP for more than 35 years — is presenting her first-ever retrospective at the University’s Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts, giving visitors the opportunity to see how accessories become art.

UTEP Professor of Art Rachelle Thiewes stands by one of her jewelry pieces on exhibit as part of her retrospective at the Rubin Center. Photo courtesy of the Rubin Center.

Something Gleams celebrates Thiewes’ work in the context of the place it was made: the starkly beautiful Chihuahuan desert landscape that has informed her decades-long study of light, movement, order and chaos.

Adding to the significance of this retrospective is that many pieces are on display in El Paso for the first time.

The exhibit went up this week and will be celebrated with an official public opening from 5-7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 26 as part of the Rubin Center’s “Summer Celebration of the Arts,” also featuring a newly commissioned mural by Gaspar Enriquez.

Rubin Center Director Kerry Doyle was awed by the vastness of Thiewes’ inventory, yet gladly took on the challenge of helping the artist curate it into a digestible exhibit.

“Rachelle has an enormous body of work, which could be organized in myriad ways to tell different stories about her interest in the body, in color, and in light, movement and sound,” Doyle said. “We worked hard to chose a selection that was representative not only of specific chronological periods in her production, but also of the core aesthetic and conceptual interests that she has pursued throughout her career.”

The exhibition features work from all stages of Thiewes’ career, highlighting the ways in which her jewelry reflects an intimate relationship with this region. Her pieces are designed to engage and challenge the wearer, making them an active participant — an initiator of sounds and body rhythms.

Doyle also was excited to give the border region the chance to experience work by a world-class artist who has chosen to live her life, produce her work and teach future generations here in El Paso and at UTEP.

“The exhibition is a pure sensual delight in and of itself,” Doyle said. “But beyond that, her example as an artist and educator serves as an inspiration to all of us.”

Doyle got the ball rolling in October 2013 when she asked Thiewes if she would be interested in a retrospective. Thiewes accepted and the Rubin Center team went to work.

“Some of the older work needed some refurbishing,” Thiewes explained. “Trying to put a body of significant work together was not easy. My work has gone in many directions visually, so probably the most difficult aspect has been designing the exhibition space.”

This year, Thiewes completes 37 years of teaching as a professor in the UTEP Department of Art, where she has provided both artistic and educational leadership to a generation of artists while becoming an international leader in the field of metalsmithing, consistently producing work that has been collected and exhibited around the globe.

Thiewes’ art is in several permanent collections, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Museum of Scotland, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.

In 2009 she was named “Texas Master” by the Houston Center of Contemporary Craft and in 2010 was nominated for a United States Artist Fellowship.

Thiewes is also the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship, the University of Texas Regents Outstanding Teaching Award, and Distinguished Achievement Awards for research and teaching at The University of Texas at El Paso.

Thiewes shares Doyle’s excitement about showing work that her hometown has not been able to see firsthand before. While a number of Thiewes’ pieces have been exhibited locally over the past three decades by the Adair Margo Gallery and the El Paso Museum of Art, the Rubin Center exhibit includes pieces never seen before in El Paso.

“I’ve never had the opportunity for a retrospective,” Thiewes said. “While it has been a daunting task to put 80 artworks together, I’m excited to have 35 years of work on view at the same time. It’s been an interesting learning process for me and I suspect I may see new things to think about once the show is up.”

Published 6/13/14 at

Lisa Garibay is a writer in UTEP's Office of University Communications.