One of the leading ecclesiastical artists in the United States, Sylvia Nicolas is a member of an illustrious and prolific stained glass family. She is the fourth of five generations specializing in the liturgical arts and the daughter of Joep and Suzanne Nicolas, both famous artists who immigrated from the Netherlands to the U.S. in 1939 to escape the rising tide of Nazism. Joep Nicolas was sometimes referred to as “the Father of Modern Stained Glass.”
In 1996, Sylvia Nicolas completed 13 windows for the Basilica of St. Pancratius in Tubbergen, the Netherlands, for the Four Generations Foundation, which contains windows made by her great grandfather (Frans Nicolas, 1826-1894), grandfather (Charles Nicolas, 1859-1933) , father (Joep Nicolas, 1897-1972) and cousin. Her son and fifth generation Nicolas, Diego Semprun Nicolas, created the remaining 10 windows in 2002, finalizing this unprecedented multigenerational project.
As a young artist, Nicolas was interested in costume design. She attended the Lycée Francais and the Dalton School in New York, the German Institute in Rome, and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques and Académie de la Grande Chaumière, both in Paris. She studied with Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo and Ossip Zadkine, French-Russian artist known for his figurative-Cubist sculptures. Throughout her career, Nicolas has designed costumes and sets for ballet productions in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Paris, France, and Manchester, New Hampshire.
From her studio in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, Nicolas has created commissions for monasteries, churches, hospitals, government buildings and public spaces. A few of her most successful stained glass projects include 10 windows for the Church of the Annunciation, Washington, D.C.; two large windows for St. Mary’s Chancery, Wichita, Kansas; 24 windows on the life of St. Benedict for the refectory of St. Anselm Abbey, Manchester, New Hampshire; 23 windows for Saints Philip and James Church in St. James (Long Island), New York; 47 windows for St. Dominic Chapel, Providence College, Providence, Rhode Island; and 19 windows for St. John’s University, Queens, New York.
In addition to her work in stained glass, Nicolas is skilled in a wide range of other media including oil, pen, conte, sculpture, mosaic and mosaic garden sculpture, concrete relief and painted tiles. Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, is home to three of her bronze sculptures and a large mosaic in the sanctuary chapel.
The recipient of The 2019 Lotte Jacobi Living Treasure Governor’s Art Award and the 2012 Barnes Lifetime Achievement Award, Nicolas is currently the focus of a Virginia Raguin essay to be published in an upcoming book about Franz Schroeder. Raguin is also working on a video interview of Nicolas for the American Glass Guild, an organization for which Nicolas serves as Senior Advisor.
In this conversation with Nicolas, the 93-year-old artist discusses recent windows created for St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Charlottesville, Virginia. She also reveals the secrets to her painting process, whether stained glass is an art or craft, and the importance of iconography and mythology in her work.
No matter the medium, Nicolas expresses the humanity of her subjects. Her focus on people, mingled with talent in a variety of media, allows her to produce art both delicate and evocative. “Foremost it is people I am concerned with, in whatever context. I’m a storyteller, really.”
Crista Van Slyck-Matteson’s multi-media art speaks of her love for wild spaces and deep connection to the Pacific Northwest. An accomplished sculptor, she allows her finely-honed intuition to guide spontaneous sculpting of natural world observations. Matteson’s work also utilizes technical mold-making skills to create exact replicas of found botanical forms. She combines these skills to create magical-realist sculptures.
Matteson states: “My sculptures live in a magical, narrative space between memories and imagination. A space that gives equal importance to the real and the imagined stories of the natural world. My interactions with the wilderness are woven into my themes. By creating stylized glass trophies, I am attempting to both capture the magical essence of untamed creatures that share my environment and honor them. With every outdoor adventure, I bring new inspiration into my studio.”
She continues: “Forest Watcher Sees All is my latest series of kiln cast glass sculptures. These works spring from my observations and research into the connectedness of all living things. As a resident of one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, I see and feel the impact on our local ecosystem. I explore the idea of kinship to shed light on what this means for our collective future.”
After receiving a BFA in textiles from the California College of Art in San Francisco, Matteson began her varied art career in costume design. Since then, her pursuit of fine art education has been relentless. Having won several merit scholarships, the artist began to study glass and metal working at the Pratt Fine Art Center and figure sculpting in the Sculpture Atelier at Gage Academy, both in Seattle. In 2018 and 2019, she furthered her glass studies at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington.
Exhibited at fine art galleries, museums and public art installations across the US, Matteson’s work is represented by Bender Gallery, Asheville, North Carolina, the Museum of Glass, Washington State, and Habatat Gallery, Royal Oak, Michigan. Her work was recognized with a Collector’s Choice Award from Habatat Gallery’s International Glass Exhibit and Juror’s Choice Awards at Mesa Contemporary Art Museum, the Schack Art Center, and Pratt Fine Art Center’s annual auction. Matteson was selected to exhibit notable glass work at the 2019 Pilchuck annual auction and in 2021 to create a large mixed media public installation for Amazon Headquarters in Seattle. Her teaching experience includes work as an assistant instructor at The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, and Pratt Fine Art Center.
In recent months, Matteson has produced new sculpture for Bender Gallery and The Museum of Glass Store in Tacoma. New work was also created for Habatat Gallery’s 50th anniversary exhibition in Royal Oak, Michigan – Habatat’s Glass Art Fair – opening September 9, 2021.
On October 15, her studio will participate in the Glass Art Society’s Collectors Tour, held during this year’s Refract: Seattle Glass Experience. Tickets on sale through the Refract website (link below). On October 16, the artist will demonstrate and discuss her work during scheduled studio tours, also part of Refract.
She says: “I have explored many different mediums but didn’t fall in love with glass work until I realized it could be cast like bronze. Spontaneity of sculpting and carving wax feeds my intuitive, somewhat impulsive side. Making molds of natural objects, such as mushrooms, to be replicated in glass, feeds my need to catalogue the natural world around me. My hunger for a technical challenge is satisfied by the involved aspects of heating a solid glass into a liquid, and then forming, annealing, and cooling it. I enjoy engineering complex forms and pushing the limits of glass. Aesthetically, I feel the transparency of glass reflects the ethereal quality of our ecosystem and cautions the viewer to tread carefully.”