The World of Sylvia Nicolas - Painting, Sculpture, Stained Glass

September 8th through October 22nd, 2010

Opening Reception: Thursday, September 16th, 5 to 7 pm
Reilly Gallery, Smith Center for the Arts

Cosponsored by the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies and the Department of Theology at Providence College

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Providence College is honored to have the work of Sylvia Nicolas on view at the Robert F. and Mary Ann Reilly Gallery, located in the Smith Center for the Arts.

There is a strong connection between Sylvia Nicolas and Providence College. She created the marvelous set of stained glass windows (45 in all) that chronicle the life of St. Dominic for the College’s St. Dominic Chapel, which was dedicated in 2001. She also produced several sculptural works for the new Chapel—a Crucifixion and a series of reliefs showing the Stations of the Cross. The College awarded Sylvia Nicolas an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts that year.

The present exhibition, “The World of Sylvia Nicolas—Painting, Sculpture, Stained Glass" provides an opportunity for the greater PC community to come to know this gifted artist better than before by bringing to campus a selection of her other works in a variety of media that were created from the 1960s to the present.

Her Life and Career

Sylvia Nicolas was born in a rural section of northern Holland. She emigrated with her family to the United States in 1939 to escape the onslaught of World War II in Europe.

Her mother and father were both artists and Sylvia grew up in a household that encouraged artistic pursuits. While a young artist who spent time in Paris and New York, she first gravitated to costume design and over time became adept at painting, sculpture, mosaic, and stained glass. In New York she studied at the Art Students League and with the important Modernist artists Rufino Tamayo and Ossip Zadkine. She attended the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques in Paris.

Of all the media in which she has worked, Sylvia Nicolas is perhaps best known for her work in stained glass. Her father, Joep Nicolas, was a legendary figure in that medium, often considered to be the “father of modern stained glass." He worked in the same stained glass studio that his grandfather had founded in Holland in 1855. (Sylvia is a fourth-generation stained glass artist and her son, Diego Semprun Nicolas, who lives in the Netherlands, carries on the tradition by being the fifth).

Joep Nicolas was widely known as an innovator in the medium. Among his departures from the traditions that stretched back to the Middle Ages was his decision to allow the lines of lead to be independent of the lines used to render the figures and objects in his compositions. He also moved away from the practice of using a cartoon, a full-scale preparatory drawing, as the basis of design. Traditionally, stained glass artists used a cartoon and placed the stained glass pieces over it. The artist then traced the lines of the cartoon on the glass before the material was painted and fired in a kiln. Instead, Joep Nicolas took to using a small drawing that provided an indication for the window and then freely painted the entire glass panel.  This approach was far more spontaneous and difficult to emulate. (See Elaine MacLean, A Dream Realized: St. Dominic Chapel at Providence College for an informative account of the stained glass techniques used by Joep and Sylvia Nicolas and of her works at Providence College.)

In 1954, when she was pregnant with her son Diego, she began to learn the art of stained glass from her father in the Netherlands. Over time she became one of the leading artists to work in this medium when she returned to the United States. In 1968 she moved to the historic village of Mont Vernon, NH where she raised a family and set up a studio in a farmhouse and barn dating to the early 19th century.

In addition to receiving numerous commissions for stained glass from institutions such as the Church of the Annunciation in Washington, DC and St. John’s University, Queens, NY, she continued to forge ahead in painting and to practice the medium in which her mother, Suzanne Nicolas, had specialized—sculpture.

Sylvia Nicolas created numerous large-scale statues in bronze or fiberglass, generally depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary, and saints, for a variety of institutions such as St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH and Stonehill College in Easton, MA. (A number of small-scale maquettes are on view in the current exhibition.) She has also produced many small sculptural works that have biblical and mythological themes.  She is equally comfortable working in two and three dimensions.

Her paintings as well reveal a wide range of subject matter, as can be seen in this exhibition. Among the themes are portraits of herself and others, mythological and religious subjects as well as scenes of everyday life. A robust drawing style and a tendency to align her figures with the picture surface reveal her affinities with 20th-century modernism with its tendencies toward stylization and compressed pictorial space.

Among the hallmarks of Sylvia Nicolas’s work is a rootedness in humanity. Regardless of medium, her work is overwhelmingly figurative and the viewer is placed in close proximity to her subjects. The human figure is always at the forefront of her art. While her work is infused with a scholarly interest in Christian and Classical iconography, it also deals directly with human predicaments and emotions. There is tragedy, humor, desire, tenderness, and many other essential human themes in her art. Her work always speaks to the heart as well as to the mind.

Greg Wallace, Ph.D.


Sylvia Nicolas—Curriculum Vitae


  • Lycée Français and Dalton School, New York, NY
  • Private study with Rufino Tamayo and Ossip Zadkine, New York, NY
  • Art Students League, New York, NY
  • Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques, Paris, France
  • Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris, France
  • Worked with Joep Nicolas, Venlo, Netherlands
  • German Institute, Rome, Italy

Selected Works


  • St. Anselm (eight-foot bronze), Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH
  • St. Benedict (six-foot bronze), Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH
  • St. Mark the Evangelist (five-foot fiberglass) for Church of St. Mark the Evangelist, Londonderry, NH
  • Madonna, Seat of Wisdom (four-and-one-half foot fiberglass) for St. Andrew’s Abbey, Whippany, NJ
  • St. Joan of Arc (five-foot bronze), Lisle, IL
  • St. Mary Magdalen (seven-foot fiberglass), Magdalen College, Warner, NH
  • The Reading Children (two bronze statues), the Town Common, Milford, NH
  • Crucifix (six feet) and Stations of the Cross for St. Dominic Chapel, Providence College, Providence, RI
  •  St. Thomas Aquinas (four-foot bronze), Convent of St. Cecelia, Nashville, TN
  • Madonna and Child (eight-foot bronze), Stonehill College, Easton, MA

Stained Glass

  • Salve Regina window at the Cistercian Monastery, Snowmass, CO
  • Thirteen windows in the Church of St. Pancratius, Tubbergen, Netherlands, done for the Four Generations Foundation, completing a church already possessing windows by great grandfather, grandfather, father, and cousin
  • Windows located in public buildings and churches and in private collections in the Netherlands and in the United States, some in collaboration with Joep Nicolas
  • Ten windows in the Church of the Annunciation, Washington, DC
  • Two large windows for St. Mary’s Chancery, Wichita, KS
  • Twenty-three windows for St. Philip and St. James, New York, NY
  • Tree of Life window for Southern NH Medical Center, Nashua, NH
  • Forty-five windows for the new St. Dominic Chapel, Providence College, Providence, RI
  • Resurrection Window – All Saints Church, New York City
  • Nineteen windows for St. John’s University, Queens, NY


  • The Creation, Orpheus, Philemon and Baucis, The Legend of St. Dominic, St. Elizabeth, The Resurrection, The Good Shepherd, Mercury, and The Laudate Psalms. Works located in the Netherlands, Germany, and New England

Costume Design

  • Ballet et Choeurs Basques Etorki, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, Frances
  • La Voleuse de Londres, Stadschouwburg, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • L’Histoire du Soldat, Manchester, NH

Other Media

  • Ceiling fresco for Technical School and painted ceramic tile tympanum over main entrance to Agricultural Institute, Helden-Panningen, Netherlands
  • Concrete reliefs at Sports Centrum and at Dominican Monastery, Venlo, Netherlands

Selected Exhibitions

  • One-woman shows and group exhibitions throughout New England
  • One-woman show at the Municipal Museum, Roermond, Netherlands
  • Regular participation in exhibitions throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France
  • One-woman show at St. Anselm College, Manchester, NH, 2009

Public Speaking

  • Keynote speaker at the International Conference on Environmental Glass, Corning, NY – 1993
  • Lectures on the history and technique of stained glass and mosaics for the New England Garden Club, the Nashua Art Association, the New Hampshire Bar Association, and the American Institute of Architects – 1980s
  • Featured speaker on design at the International Stained Glass Seminar, New York, NY – 1982


  • Awarded an honorary degree as Doctor of Fine Arts by St. Anselm College, Manchester, NH – 1991
  • Awarded an honorary degree as Doctor of Fine Arts by Providence College, Providence, RI – 2001
Information from

Stained glass pieces, Sylvia Nicolas studio,
Mont Vernon, NH



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Virgin and Child, 2009, stained glass

Self-Portrait, 1966, oil on canvas

St. Dominic, 1984, fiberglass

A Great Distance, 1985, oil on canvas

Interior, St. Dominic Chapel
Photos courtesy Sara Spirito, Class of 2011

Providence College