Karel was born in Prague in 1939 in the Czech Republic, back then a part of Czechoslovakia. His family has an uninterrupted history of over 300 years as skilled craftsmen, making and designing objects of beauty in virtually any material. At the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, he spent six years studying to be a classical monumental sculptor, working on the side in a fine-art foundry.
He opened his first studio in Prague and became a glass luminary upon graduation. There he orchestrated and trained a six-man team to perform harmoniously in the creation of his sculptures. His drinking glasses were prototypes for trade shows and best sellers in homes. “It’s such a sublime profession that you have to honor it; you have to caress it,” he says. “You’re not just sculpting glass; you’re sculpting light.”
Karel left Czechoslovakia in 1968, the year the Soviets invaded Prague. He came to America at the invitation of Alexander Calder, the renowned sculptor-ringleader of mobile circuses. He then made models for Louis Kahn, the innovative Philadelphia architect who became Mikolas’ mentor. There he served in the capacity of model-maker and materials consultant on Mr. Kahn’s projects. After Khan died in 1974, Karel bought a small property in the rural community of Newside – a place he would later fondly nickname “Nirvana East.” For more than 40 years, he’s been transforming a 200-year-old barn into a home studio laboratory. Here he was able to once again establish Atelier Mikolas and continue his work. He lives there to this day with his wife, Anna.
In the mid-’80s, Mikolas basically retired from hot glass. He was burned out by the heat of the furnace and his own creativity. “Man, this is a brutal sport,” he says. “It’s physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually taxing. It’s almost addictive; it’s almost like a drug. You’re dealing with light and the substance of light, and literally, you jump into astrology and astronomy.”
He’s been devoted to carving erotic, exotic female totems with whirlpool grains and lightning-bolt crevices. They’re partly tributes to nubile Czech ladies who were naked in front of young Karel while his seamstress mother fitted them for dresses.
“But I have a good word of encouragement for everybody who will follow the path after I am gone: Never give up, keep on working, keep on trucking and keep on rehearsing. You will be good. Everything will be good, and maybe one day there will be peace on earth.” – KAREL MIKOLAS.