William H. Thielen was born March 18, 1954 in Pierre, South Dakota, where he grew up. He did his undergraduate studies in painting at Northern State University, Aberdeen, South Dakota where he received a B.S. in Art Education Comprehensive (Painting with minors in Fibers and Sculpture) in 1977. At that time he realized that in making his art he wanted a broader base from which to draw. Therefore, he enrolled in graduate school under M. Joan Lintault at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He received his M.F.A. in fibers in 1980.
Just after completion of his terminal degree, he was invited to be a multimedia panelist for Fibre-Form-Fusion, an international conference held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Shortly thereafter, in 1982, he received a visual artist fellowship grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
He has received purchase awards from the Evansville (Indiana) Museum of Art and Science in 1993 and the Mitchell Museum, Mt. Vernon, Illinois, in 2002; and merit awards from the 31st Annual Quincy Show, Elizabeth Sinnock Gallery, Quincy, Illinois in 1981; the Alexandria Fine Arts Annual, Visual Art Center, Alexandria, Louisiana in 1982; the Self-Images show at the Associated Artist Gallery, Carbondale, Illinois in 1989; and the Evansville (Indiana) Museum of Art and Science in 2000.
In 1984 he was one of ten artists chosen to participate in the Interchange Program at the Banff Center for the Arts, Banff, Alberta, Canada. This international collection of emerging artists spent the summer studying with artists from the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including Francoise Grossen, Gary Trentham, Ritzi and Peter Jacobi, Mildred Constantine, Mariette Rousseau, Patterson Sims, and Judy Pfaff.
In 1984-85, Sandra McMorris Johnson and Mr. Thielen took top honors in the National Endowment for the Arts-funded Fiberworks Exhibition and Projects Competition in Berkeley, California. They were commissioned to mount a collaborative installation in their main gallery.
When creating pictorial or sculptural objects, it is risky to trust the intuitive nature of emotions and the intellectual information that comes from observation.
For me, the only way to overcome this risk is in the language of abstraction.
The process of abstraction is one of spontaneity, flexibility, and trusting the intuitive nature of the act. Also inherent is an emotional reaction and metaphorical reckoning on the part of the viewer. All of this helps to create a new visual language in which to address the issues behind the visual statement.
The issues behind my work are personal and autobiographical. I work with these issues because they are my attempt to find my own true identity in a divisive social structure. Maybe in a way I am trying to find a momentary calm while existing in a society that is full of hostility and hatred.