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Casper jewelry artist Hawkinson elevates adornment to art
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Casper jewelry artist Hawkinson elevates adornment to art

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Rachel Hawkinson’s brooches inspired by birds are more than just adornment. The abstract works of art represent physical features and behaviors of various bird species with colorful stones, metal and feathers. They perch on pieces of wood in her “Flying Frippery” show through June on the walls of Scarlow’s Gallery in downtown Casper. Those who can’t make it there can check out the Casper artist’s “Flying Frippery” catalog at her website, thawkstudio.com.

People often think of jewelry as just personal adornment. You wear a piece of jewelry and then put in a box, where it stays in the dark. But Hawkinson wants these pieces to stay out display.

“People pick jewelry because of personal things and personal stories,” Hawkinson said. “And there’s so much that goes into picking a piece of jewelry that you want to buy. And I just felt like I wanted to elevate that from personal adornment into visual art.”

Aerial inspiration

“Flying Frippery” began nearly a year ago with a Crow Springs turquoise stone Hawkinson ordered from an eco-friendly seller. She’d been in an “artistic funk,” unable to come up with artistic jewelry ideas, she said.

The yellow stone had an aerial feel. She taped it into her sketchbook and as she contemplated and sketched, the image of a swallow-tailed kite came to her mind. She created a brooch inspired by the bird. That project led to a few more, she and decided to create an series that became “Flying Frippery.”

She asks in her artist statement what makes personal adornment more than a simple accessory. Jewelry can be a talisman, a totem and an expression of who we are; and the brooches, coupled with their displays can ascend from personal adornment into visual art.

“What if, while not being worn, jewelry had a place to be, a purpose? Flying Frippery dives into that concept,” she said in the statement.

The show is a about expressing oneself and fighting misconceptions about jewelry, art or anything else.

“And so this show is really just about being free to be who you are and to have a little fun and to not take things too seriously,” Hawkinson said. “And that’s why some of these brooches are really outrageous. You know, they’re big and they’re full of life.”

The pieces are abstracted to accentuate features and behaviors of various types of birds. She created “Canada Goose” with a mokume gane technique on one side to represent downy feathers, and the brooch is shaped like a the “V” because of the bird’s flying pattern.

“Sage Grouse” features lemon quartz to denote the yellow air sacks on the male birds’ chests that they use to draw mates. A cabling pattern on the metal signifies their symmetrical feather pattern. She incorporated real feathers from the species in many of the pieces, although she had to use a pheasant feather for the sage grouse brooch since they’re a threatened species.

She placed “Long-tailed Sylph” on a larger piece of wood than the others to represent the hummingbirds’ small size.

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The brooches can be worn with or without the feathers, which easily attach or detach. She created the brooches to come off and on their displays with as much ease while they’re not being worn. They can be transported in handmade boxes she made for each, which contain care instructions and the hanging hardware.

“So I really tried to think about whoever ends up putting these in their homes,” Hawkinson said. “I want it to be easy for them to put them up and to enjoy those pieces.”

One piece in the show isn’t for sale but will be raffled with all money going to Make-A-Wish Wyoming in honor of artist Shawn Rivett, who died in March and often donated his art and time to the organization. Raffle tickets are $10 each. She created brooch, “Nicobar Pigeon,” with Wyoming jade, which Rivett loved, and colorful feathers of the social bird she felt fit his personality.

“It’s just a way for me to pay tribute to somebody who did so much for the Casper art community,” Hawkinson said.

About the artist

Hawkinson studied art at Casper College and earned her bachelor’s degree in fine art and humanities at the University of Wyoming, where her passion sparked for metal work in advanced jewelry classes. She studied under art instructor Linda Ryan at Casper College.

“In her classes, it was about making sure that what you were doing expressed who you were as an artist or as a person,” she said. “And for some reason, that really stuck with me.”

At her T. Hawk Studio, she uses traditional bench techniques and incorporates complex wire fabrication into her work, according to her website. She focuses on unique works, so each piece is one of a kind. Hawkinson draws inspiration from nature and incorporates natural elements like found objects, wood, leather and eco-friendly materials.

Hawkinson re-purposes everything she can and has become diligent in where she gets her stones and metals, she said.

“And so I’m really mindful of how I go about making things, in that I really want to make sure that I am being as kind to the earth as I possibly can and at the same time, making things that are going to last a really long time,” she said.

The past year has been one of milestones in her art, with moments of disappointment as well as breakthrough and accomplishment, Hawkinson said. She took a workshop this year with her favorite jewelry artist of all time, Andy Cooperman, and learned techniques she didn’t know were possible.

Sometimes a new experiment or technique works, and pieces come together as if on their own, and other times she’s had to start over. But as she always tells her children, you learn more from your mistakes than successes. Through moments of struggle and doubt, she strives to keep working and learning, she said.

“And, you know, some of the disappointments come with things like the COVID crisis, where you plan for a year and then, you know, life hits,” she said.

The “Flying Frippery” show date neared amid uncertainty, and an opening reception wasn’t possible. That’s why she made the online catalog for people to see the show virtually. It’s a time when everyone’s lives have been flipped upside down, she said.

“But art is really important to kind of keep your morale up and to help you fight through those days where you don’t know what’s coming next,” Hawkinson said. “And I think art gives us kind of a break to take a minute for ourselves and to not take things too seriously all the time. And that’s pretty much what this show was about, is really about fun; and it’s about being free and kind of fighting those misconceptions of what people think, whether it’s jewelry or whatever. It’s just an expression of who we are.”

Follow arts & culture reporter Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner

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