Hand Medal Project

Above Images: Postcards for gallery visitors to write and send to someone that has cared for them as a gesture of gratitude. Left/top: Paula Giménez; Right/bottom: Dorothea Heise

Specially for Worn, artists, friends, and collaborators, Iris Eichenberg and Jimena Ríos, created a participatory project that invites anyone and everyone to take part. Inspired by their previous collaboration The Hand Medal Project, and ongoing efforts to thank healthcare professionals during the continued Covid-19 pandemic, Eichenberg and Ríos designed two postcards, each with different images of hands holding hands. These postcards are made available to the public to write and send notes of gratitude to someone who has provided them personally with care. This project debuted at Hobart and William Smith Colleges as part of the Worn exhibition in 2021.

Hands have been powerfully present in our battle with coronavirus. They are symbols of how our bodies have become weapons to be washed, sanitized, and gloved, and also of their innate capacity to heal and to connect. The act of writing by hand physically connects the writer to the reader. We leave a human imprint through our unique handwriting and our individual words. It is this tactile connection that makes the postcard such an enduring artifact and timely action during a global pandemic that has drastically impacted the way we physically interact.

Eichenberg and Rios's collaboration, the Hand Medal Project, was conceived in early 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis as a way to honor those risking their lives for us. While watching caregivers, nurses, and doctors who were giving—and continue to give—their all to our communities, Eichenberg and Ríos wanted to find a way to contribute. Inspired by ex-votos—handheld objects of devotion that honor a gratitude or a wish, the Hand Medal Project invited artists, jewelers, students, and professionals to craft medals to honor the service and sacrifice of health workers. Infused with the gratitude of the ex-voto and the tribute of a medal, these hands have been made and collected since April 2020, then bestowed upon medical workers in November, 2020.

To implement the project, Eichenberg and Ríos organized a network of what they call “Hand Keepers,” 145 people who collected the medals from individuals across 66 participating countries. The medals, around 70.000, were then passed on to “Hand Givers,” who presented them to their local medical communities. Each medal was registered with a number stamped on the back, allowing recipients to look up the maker of their medal on the project’s website.

While the postcards allow for individual voices and personal connections, authorship is secondary to the Hand Medal Project. The medals were not about the maker, but about the receiver. To underscore the unity of this collaborative effort, participants copied a template of the hand, designed to be simple enough for all skill levels, and easily replicated into whatever metal is available. This singular hand creates a collective voice, reinforcing the shared gratitude of the project’s mission. Through “hands making hands,” The Hand Medal Project manifests the multiplicity of meanings in the hand, while the design, which was based from a historical Argentinian ex-voto from Ríos’s personal collection, reforges the symbol into service.

For the jewelers who participated around the world, hands are the language of skill and expression embodied. For all those who write and send postcards, hands tangibly extend wordswords of gratitude, recognition, and resilience.



Above Image: Maximiliano Ríos; Public Hospital, Mendoza, Argentina

After graduating in 1994 from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, Iris Eichenberg worked as an independent artist, art educator, part-time curator, and organizer of art-related events. She began teaching at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 1996, where she became Head of the Jewelry Department in 2000. Eichenberg held this position until 2007. Since 2006 Eichenberg has been the Artist in Residence and Head of the Metalsmithing Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and has since been teaching there full-time. She regularly lectures, acts as visiting critic, and gives workshops around the world. Eichenberg’s work has been recognized by institutions such as the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, and The European Ceramic Center in Den Bosch. She is also a Herbert Hofmann Prize and Gerrit Rietveld Academy Award recipient.


Jimena Ríos studied jewelry at the Escola Massana School in Barcelona and at Alchimia School in Florence. She furthered her education attending workshops and lectures on jewelry and art history. In 2013 she founded Taller Eloi the first jewelry school in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she works as a teacher and organizes exhibitions and workshops with guest teachers such as Manon van Kouswijk, Celio Braga, and Caroline Broadhead, offering South American students the possibility to learn from well-known artists. She has given lectures and seminars in Argentina and abroad. Ríos has curated exhibitions to promote Latin American jewelry and she has edited and published Por Gracias Recibidas, a book that features contemporary Argentinian makers working on ex votos and “True is what has been made,” featuring ex votos from contemporary makers from all over the world.