San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Glass Studios in San José Produce Original Work

AN underground parking garage in one of San José’snewest malls may not sound like the best place to go insearch of art; but entering the subterranean studio gallery ofArt Glass is like arriving at an Aladdin’s cave of shimmering,colorful glass artworks of dramatic proportions.Against one wall, a towering and elegant “stand” oftranslucent bamboo stems glows with internal intensity, andevery spotlit display shelf reveals a rainbow selection ofindividually crafted plates, figures and abstract forms. Theoutside gloom only enhances the radiance of the showpiecesfor sale here, produced by acclaimed international artists.Art Glass is the first school in the country to offerinstruction in the different techniques of working in glass,and its specialized shop can supply all the necessary materialsand tools needed for the classes.Owner Ruth Moreno is passionate about her subject.Her interest began with a Foreign Trade Promotion Office(PROCOMER) project working with local women in thePacific port city of Puntarenas on glass recycling and shapingusing old bottles. The project was discontinued becauseof lack of funding, but Moreno was intrigued enough by theeffects of glass to further her learning in the United States,at the Eugene Glass School in Oregon and the PilchukGlass School in Seattle, Washington. She also studied withseveral U.S. artists, and gained enough knowledge of thevarious techniques and methods to be able to teach glassworkhere in Costa Rica.COMING across terms such as frits, stringers, slumping,pâte de verre (glass paste), flamework and combing,how can one not be fascinated by this iridescent discipline?Moreno’s enthusiasm is infectious as she shows off theinstallations and equipment in the spacious classroombehind the gallery. All materials are imported, and texturedplates of enticingly colorful glass are stacked in the shop’sdepository, inviting one to crank up the kiln and get slumping.(Slumping is the technique of shaping glass by bendingit under heat over or into a mold, often used for platesor shallow bowls.)Most students in Moreno’s classes are already establishedartists in their own fields; she introduced a sculptor,painter, photographer and architect, keen to expand theircreative horizons, to the world of glasswork. Classes coverthe basic techniques of cutting, polishing and assembling incold-glass projects, which can vary from making Tiffanypieces to stained glass or etching.Warm- or hot-glass methods involve learning about thedifferent stages of kiln use, each critical, depending on thekind of technique being applied. Slumping, for example,needs temperatures of around 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit toallow the glass to gently fold into its mold, while pâte deverre fuses a glassy paste made of frits (small fragments ofglass) inside a mold at 1,300-1,500 degrees F.For those not interested in donning goggles and producingtheir own works of art, the Art Glass gallery is the idealplace to look for exclusive gifts or collectibles. Severalartists represented here have permanently exhibited piecesin such lofty venues as New York’s Museum of Modern Artor Washington’s Tacoma Museum of Glass. They are offshootsfrom the 1960s’ American Studio Glass Movementthat developed glass as an art medium instead of factory producedutilitarian items, or the European ateliers thatwere technically skilled but lacking energy and originality.Works by David García, Milon Townsend, Doug Randalland Morgan Madison are all available, though they don’tcome cheap, ranging from $150-9,000.Art Glass is in Centro Comercial Plaza Rohrmoser, levelone, in the underground car park. An inaugural exhibit ofstudents’ work will be on display after Sept. 8. For moreinformation, call 231-1616 or visit the other side of town, a dilapidated house in easternSan José is home to a very different, tiny studio calledDiklö, which produces beautiful but practical pieces atvery affordable prices. Originating as a human developmentproject incorporating art and good conservation practices,it has developed into a workshop that uses only recycledglass, which is fused or cast into elegant servingplates, funky soap dishes, sonorous mobiles and colorfuljewelry.An indigenous Cabécar name meaning spring water,the word diklö, when spoken, is reminiscent of fallingwater droplets. Indeed, many of the pieces have an aqueousappearance, with air bubbles frozen into swirling blue andgreen layers.Administrator Linnette Madrigal and designer CynthiaMora shrug off the less-than-chic surroundings; they areonly too happy to have finally found a permanent place tostore materials, work in peace and look for funding afterbegging space in other, less-than-ideal premises in the past.They admit to being at that critical stage where investmentis necessary to better market their products and meetincreasing orders. With sale prices ranging from $5-15 forplates, $5 for earrings and $8 for mobiles, they barely coverthe costs of materials and wages for their small team ofwomen glassworkers.Mora, who also holds down a full-time teaching job atthe British School in the western San José neighborhood ofRohrmoser, produced photos of some stunning double-paneledglass doors she recently finished for a private client.“If we could only get a few more commissions like this,we’d be fine,” she mused.In spite of financial tribulations and exhausting scheduling,neither of the women intends to give up on Diklö. Aplanned trip in September to several major Florida-basedart shows could well bring the commercial exposure thestudio needs.For information, call Madrigal at 392-2019. Productsmay be viewed and ordered online at

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