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People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla glass artist Lori Polak wins international prize

“When I make art, I get in a trance and forget about the outside world," says La Jolla glass artist Lori Polak.
(Courtesy of Lori Polak)

Her award-winning piece, ‘Power Play,’ is made up of sculptures inspired by mojigangas — giant puppets used in celebrations or cultural festivities in Polak’s native Mexico.

For many artists, creating their work is a labor of love that takes time, imagination and adaptation. For glass artist Lori Polak of La Jolla, her chosen medium takes even more time, imagination and adaptation. Pieces can take years to fabricate.

Polak recently was awarded a Glass Prize by internationally renowned Warm Glass UK. Glass artists from around the world submitted pieces for competition in different categories. Polak took first place in the Open Glass Artists category for her piece “Power Play.”

“It’s been really exciting because it’s a big competition and a lot of remarkable glass artists that show around the world participate. They leave me wondering how they do what they do,” Polak said. “I feel great to have my work recognized.”

The sculptures that make up “Power Play” were inspired by mojigangas — giant puppets used in celebrations or cultural festivities in Polak’s native Mexico — and each took months to create.

A series of sculptures makes up Lori Polak's "Power Play."
A series of sculptures makes up Lori Polak’s “Power Play,” which won a first-place award in an international glass artists competition.
(Courtesy of Lori Polak)

“I always loved these [mojigangas] growing up,” she said. “You see them during weddings and Dia de las Muertos. You walk down the street and all of a sudden this 9-foot whimsical puppet appears marching down the street. I decided to find a way to make them smaller and in glass, which is a bit challenging. I started making them, and it took me three years to complete the whole set.”

She said her glass work is forged in a kiln, not blown, and requires a custom-made cast to set it.

“You make a mold with wax, but even that takes days to make,” Polak said. “You make the mold, form it like clay, let it set, heat it up, carve it how you need to, let it cool, until you get what you want. When I’m satisfied with it, I have to make the mold material [that will set as glass], mix it, and that takes a day to make then a day to dry, then you fire it in the kiln and, depending on the size, it can take multiple days to set.”

Power Play featured several interchangeable pieces created through the laborious process.

“I’m not at it all day every day, so it takes awhile,” Polak said with a laugh. “When I make art, I get in a trance and forget about the outside world. It’s like being a kid again where your imagination goes on and on. When it’s finished, it feels like when the mojigangas puppets would appear — there is this surprise and you’re so happy.”

Polak, who was born and raised in Mexico City by European parents, came to San Diego in the 1970s to attend the University of San Diego and study French and Spanish literature. She later studied in France and got a master’s degree in translation and interpretation, and another master’s in teaching in San Diego. She moved to La Jolla in 1994.

Opting to stay in San Diego to be closer to her parents, who also lived in La Jolla, she taught at La Jolla Country Day School and the Mingei International Museum. After some stints in other countries to learn new techniques of glass art, she created a home studio and started teaching private lessons.

Learn more about Polak at lpolakdesigns.com.

People in Your Neighborhood shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to robert.vardon@lajollalight.com. ◆