November has become the month to showcase UTEP’s growing art department and its two newest professors – Angel Cabrales and Jess Tolbert.

The two said they are proud to show off their students’ work, starting with the opening of the “In-Depth” show at the Union Gallery. The exhibit showcases the department’s three 3D studio programs: jewelry and metals, sculpture, and ceramics.

Cabrales and Tolbert became tenure-track assistant professors this fall after serving as visiting professors for three years.

They replace longtime and respected artists Rachelle Thiewes in metals and Ray Parish in sculpture, and are excelling as mentors and ambassadors for UTEP and the arts.

Angel Cabrales Sculpture

A native El Pasoan and Cathedral High School alumnus thrilled to be back home, Cabrales keeps his eye on the community and thinks of ways to stay involved in the borderland while teaching.

In October, some of the dozen or so sculpture majors and minors and other students polished up a project for the city’s Chalk the Block festival: more than two dozen large pastel pieces of chalk, weighing up to 200 pounds, concocted out of Cabrales’s recipe of gypsum and tempera paint.

In December, students will present their ideas and models to the city’s Museums and Cultural Affairs Department for a planned public art project on Rim Road.

Over seven semester-long courses, UTEP sculpture students take an introduction to steel and resin, multimedia sculpture, steel work, alternative casting, public art, special design problems in sculpture, and directed independent study.

After high school, Cabrales, whose father is an engineer, headed to New Mexico Tech to major in geochemistry.

After a couple years in Socorro, New Mexico, he gave in to his artistic side and studied art and painting at the College of Santa Fe. A sculpture professor convinced him that his strengths lay in three-dimensional work, and he transferred again to earn his bachelor’s in sculpture from Arizona State University.

“I finally figured out what I wanted to do,” Cabrales said.

After completing his master’s in fine arts from the University of North Texas in 2009, Cabrales taught sculpture at Tarrant County Community College, University of Texas at Brownsville, and the low-residency MFA program at the Art Institute of Chicago.

His sculptures have appeared in museums, galleries and juried shows. He says that he is not exactly a commercial artist; he often works with political and satirical subject matter, drawing his inspiration from social concerns.

“My work is also very playful,” Cabrales said.

He likes the “kit-bash” movement: using different model kits and other materials to create new objects.

Cabrales draws everything upfront before creating a sculpture.

“Nothing is more satisfying than being able to make what I can draw.”

Jess Tolbert Metals and Jewelry Making

Tolbert did not start out in the metals field in college. She was majoring in graphic design when she admired a friend’s elaborate mermaid pendant.

“I was surprised when she said she made it herself,” Tolbert recalls. She switched to metals and jewelry making for her bachelor’s in fine arts from Texas State University and master’s in fine arts from University of Illinois-Urbana.

Her passion for working with metals comes with her passion for working with her hands.

One of her earliest memories of being creative with her hands goes back to her mother teaching her to sew and crochet in the fifth grade.

“I made purses for everyone,” she said. “I liked being able to make things people could wear and enjoy.”

She pulled together her thoughts about hands in her master’s thesis on the functions of the hand in everyday life and in the craft disciplines.

Today, Tolbert teaches in studios filled with sophisticated metal working tools and machines.

She is clearly at home at UTEP with the 14 metals majors and minors and the other students who take the highly specialized classes.

The curricular sequence includes stone setting, casting, fabrication, use of color and material, mechanisms (clasps, hinges, and such), and raising and forming.

Despite her busy teaching schedule, Tolbert continues to produce her own work.

She has 10 pieces at Gallery Loup, a contemporary jewelry gallery in Montclair, New Jersey, and work in the juried Biennial Craft Texas show at the Center for Contemporary Crafts in Houston.

The metals department’s four studios and workroom include equipment for enameling, sand blasting, creating different patinas, chasing and repousse, casting, rolling out metal, melting metal and much more.

Tolbert beams as she looks over the workroom with 24 well-equipped workstations, a library of hammers and saws, and chemicals such as electrolytic nitrate solutions and oxidizing compounds.

“I’m so grateful for all these resources,” she said.


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