Geometry and the projection of light have always been key components of Debora Coombs’ artwork. In 2013 she began exploring mathematical projections as a way to understand shifts between dimensions of space. Working from Penrose tiling (a two-dimensional shadowof a five-dimensional lattice), 3D sculptures in glass and paper were built using her classic design skills to explore various aspects of mathematics.
A number of high-profile residencies have allowed Coombs to explore these new concepts. In the spring of 2016, she did a month-long collaborative residency with computer scientist Duane Bailey, and in October, a 2-week residency at Assets for Artists: The Studiosat MASS MoCAat the Massachusetts Museum for Contemporary Art, North Adams, Massachusetts.
In 2017, a 3-week residency at Carroll College, Helena, Montana, allowed the artist to focus on the theological symbolism of geometry, which resulted in a commission for 85 square feet of hand painted geometric stained glass windows for All Saints, the new chapel on campus. That same year, Coombs spent a month at Jentel Artist Residencyin Banner, Wyoming, making a series of math-based drawings that led to the discovery of a new geometric figure.
In February 2018, Coombs was invited by artist Lauren Bon of the Metabolic Studiosin Los Angeles, California, to spend two weeks collaborating and contributing to a landscape project for redirecting LA’s river water for the irrigation of city parks. In April, she presented this and other recent work at the 13th Biennial Gathering for Gardnerin Atlanta, Georgia, an international conference for mathematicians and artists. Then in May 2018, longtime New Yorker staff-writer Lawrence Weschler invited Coombs to speak at the Tamarind Institutein Albuquerque, New Mexico, as part of his Wonder Cabinet, a gathering of artists who work in close association with scientists.
Coombs’ award-winning stained glass has been exhibited, commissioned and collected internationally for over 30 years. A Fellow of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, the artist studied stained glass at Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland; University of Wales, Swansea; and received her Master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London, England, 1985. An experienced educator, Coombs directed the glass department at Chelsea College of Art in London from 1994 to 1996. She has lectured and taught stained glass for professional associations and colleges including Pilchuck Glass School, Stained Glass Association of America, American Glass Guild, and the British Society of Master Glass Painters. Her religious commissions include two 25-foot-tall figurative windows for Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, 20 stained glass windows for St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, and 4 windows for St. Henry’s Catholic Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
Rare in the stained glass world, Coombs has successfully extended her devotion to content and story-telling to her non-commissioned work. Her piece, “Ornithologist,” from her 2009 Menfolk series, was included in New Glass Review 31, The Corning Museum of Glass publication dedicated to presenting cutting edge works of glass art. Her solo exhibition titled Menfolk, opened at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theater Gallery in London, England, before traveling to the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England, in the spring of 2010. That same year, Coombs completed a collaborative work with artist Michael Oatman as part of his mixed-media installation “All Utopias Fell,” which remains permanently on exhibit at MASS MoCA.
In June 2018 Coombs ran a hands-on pilot project for children and community members at the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and contributed to a panel discussion chaired by Margaret Wertheim from the Institute For Figuring about the connections between art and mathematics. The focus of this one-day conference was STEM to STEAM; practical ways to bring the A for Art into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs in education.
In November 2018, Coombs completed two stained glass windows with geometric themes for Carroll College, Helena, Montana. Work continues on three more windows, scheduled for completion in February 2021. The artist’s sculptures are currently on exhibition at the Schow Science Library in Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts.