The work of Sylvia Laks possesses a certain mystical quality that captures the viewer. Looking at her stained and painted glass is akin to a supernatural event, such as gazing into a crystal ball or seeing the future in a magical river. Sheer beauty and mystery draws you in; the search for truth inspires in-depth study.
Laks lives and works high in the mountains of Heredia, Costa Rica, 5,500 feet above sea level in a beautiful, peaceful area surrounded by trees and vegetation. She and husband, Enrique, have a home and two-story studio on the same property, surrounded by many flowers. An extremely versatile artist, Laks takes on all kinds of commissions covering every theme possible, from ornamental jobs created in stained glass to elaborate, fully painted portraits – her forte.
Catholic church commissions comprise about 30 percent of the studio’s work, and the remaining 70 percent is the creation of new windows. Twelve artisans work for Sylvia and Enrique regularly, and they have trained a stable of eight additional artists they can call upon when needed, such as during the creation of fully painted windows for the main Catholic Seminary in Costa Rica.
Laks has also been commissioned to create glass art for government institutions such as Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (an institution that takes care of abandoned children), Albergue de la Mujer Agredida (an institution that provides shelter for battered women), and the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos de Costa Rica (which approves all constructions in the country), in addition to many hotels and residential commissions.
Most of her autonomous panels have been commissioned by private galleries and for private homes in Germany, the US, and Costa Rica. Laks shows her work at her own permanent gallery and also at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano’s art gallery, which is part of the USA Embassy and the State Department.
Recognition of Laks’ work in the US began in June 2010 when she won First Place in the Stained Glass Association of America’s (SGAA) annual conference exhibition, becoming the first non-American to ever receive this peer-voted award. Laks’ winning piece, Faces 1, depicts the eldest artisan at her studio prior to his retirement. “I felt unbelievably surprised winning this award. I was further excited because very few people in Costa Rica consider stained glass a medium of artistic expression.”
In 2011 Laks’ studio became the first international studio ever accepted as a fully accredited member of the SGAA. This was the result of an intense one-year process, in which then SGAA president, Jack Whitworth, traveled to Costa Rica with his wife Cindy to inspect the studio and its commissions.
Laks’ panel, Calamity, appeared on the spring 2011 cover of Stained Glass Quarterly. This piece speaks about the sadness of several international events through its images of Muslim terrorists, armies, Osama bin Laden, and George W. Bush. “For me, the most painful feelings are inspired by the children who lost their lives. This is happening so often in today’s world. I try to express these feelings in my paintings. I feel uncomfortable with the lack of meaning in what is considered art today. This is a reflection of our modern society.”
As a trained scientist prior to creating with glass, Amanda Simmons is fascinated by how our world works and how it can be fixed. Inspired by subjects as diverse as the physics of our expanding universe or how drugs function on a molecular level, the artist has been discovering new ways to explore the properties of mass, heat, time and gravity in the creation of 3D vessel forms. Intense color and patterns result when opaque glass powders react to light, varying in translucency as the form elongates during the firing process. Works are finished using many coldworking processes to shape and mark the glass including sandblasting, hand lapping, diamond point and wheel engraving.
Simmons states: “My practice as a glass artist has become a conduit to further learning by making objects in a material whose language I understand, addressing subjects that interest me in the natural world. Our achievements as a species are impressive but equally frustrating in the cycles of social and environmental injustice, from which we never seem to learn. I want to investigate these cyclic routes and the lessons unlearnt, incorporating this narrative into my work, cultivating and inspiring change in a positive and visual method.”
Originally trained in biomedical sciences (pharmacology) and clinical sciences, Simmons became interested in glass in 2002 after a stained glass course with Ray Bradley and then pursued a postgraduate in Glass and Architecture from Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, London, in 2004. Following a recent two-week residency at Lyth Arts Centre in Caithness, the artist began exploring the continuing research of the Flow Country and its massive capacity to store carbon in the many layers of peat. Working from watercolor prints inspired by the patterns and colors of the land and sky, she produced some of her largest gravity formed glassworks to date for her first solo exhibition Outer Spaces, held July 2017 at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh.
Simmons’ Dahlia Universe series, kilnformed solstice platters, were selected for exhibition in the 2019 British Glass Biennale. Creating work that often examines natural world contrasts, the artist kiln formed platters signifying the changes in season with the thought of our universe expanding like a growing flower. The works investigate whether we could use the biological theory of convergence to explain how our universe was made. Another series, Southern Hemispheres, was inspired by three months travelling and working in Australia. These pieces represent the first small-scale investigations of the resilient Australian native botanicals, posing the question: Do the survival techniques of these plants relate to our current crises in environmental and political situations?
Creating work from her studio in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, since 2005, Simmons is the winner of The Gold Award from ORIGIN 2010: The London Craft Fair and finalist in Bullseye Glass Company’s Emerge 2012. United States and UK exhibitions include Craft Scotland 2013 and SOFA Chicago. Most recently, Contemporary Applied Arts exhibited Simmons glass art in their material-focused exhibition COLLECT: The International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design. Her work can be found in public collections including: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England; National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland; Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth, Scotland; and Ernsting Stiftung Glass Museum, Germany.
An important part of Simmons’ practice is to educate and mentor, a way to pass on the skills developed over 19 years of kiln forming glass. Her 60-minute Master Class Video, available on Bullseye Glass Co.’s website, shares the full process by which she creates her tall vessels. She says: “I enjoy mentoring students starting out in their careers with glass, including business advice, professional development, and a range of glass techniques.”