INGA WOODS IS A GLASS ARTIST AND STUDENT AT LOUISIANA TECH UNIVERSITY. WHERE ART AND SCIENCE MEET, BEAUTIFUL JEWELRY IS FORMED.
ARTICLE BY APRIL CLARK HONAKER
PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY VIA FACETIME BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
Inga Woods is a glass artist and Louisiana Tech University student who grew up in Belize, which is located on the northeastern coast of Central America and borders the Caribbean Sea. The 27-year-old cyber and electrical engineering major took on several odd jobs to make money as a young adult in Belize. She worked as a mechanic’s assistant, was a cashier for a water taxi company, and slowly became a magnet for others’ creative projects. “I noticed that a lot of people would ask me to make things,” she said.
While she was working as a mechanic’s assistant, she also learned new skills from her coworkers when extra hands were needed. One of those new skills was welding. Once she learned to weld, she liked it so much that she started experimenting in her spare time and making sculptures out of metal scraps for fun.
Being creative in ways like these has always come naturally to Inga. She attributes her creative spirit partly to a language delay she experienced as a small child. Because she was nonverbal until she was 4, Inga communicated with sign language, gestures, and drawings at first. “I feel like being able to express myself in a nonverbal way with art has really helped me communicate with people,” she said. But Inga didn’t take herself seriously as an artist until she was an adult and had dabbled in a few different jobs.
When Inga started welding and making metal sculptures for fun, she considered investing in a welding certification course. But before she dove headfirst into it, she decided to do a little research and see if there was anything comparable that she might like more. That’s how she discovered glass blowing and decided to learn more about the beautiful art form.
Up until this point, Inga had been deterred by the starving-artist myth and had never seriously considered investing in her creative skills or becoming an artist, but she found that people were always pleased with the outcome of pieces they commissioned from her, which helped build her confidence. When she discovered glass blowing, she thought, “Why not invest in it?”
Soon Inga was taking classes and working with beads. She enjoyed making beads but said they were made of soda-lime glass, which she found to be more temperamental and prone to cracking than borosilicate glass. According to Inga, borosilicate takes longer to heat, but it’s more durable and lends itself better to larger projects, which appealed to Inga because she’s the type to want to go big or go home.
Today, Inga makes beautiful pendants, but they no longer resemble her early work, which was made with tourists in mind and included turtles, manta rays, and other animals native to the Caribbean. Instead, her current pendants are simple, minimalistic conversation pieces. Along with making these pendants and glass drinking straws, Inga has challenged herself to make some larger pieces, such as crowns and headpieces, and is challenging herself to go even bigger as she learns more. Inga’s current work celebrates femininity, which she attributes to having inspiring women in her life—four sisters and her mom, who is an extraordinary woman.
Although being a student has forced Inga to place some of her plans for bigger projects on hold, she continues to learn and create in the studio as well as the classroom. According to Inga, working with glass requires immense focus and steady hands. It also requires planning, especially for bigger pieces. She said, “You have to piece them in your head, and it teaches you to be efficient with your time and be patient.” At the same time, you have to work fast to shape it.
To help those who have never worked with hot glass understand what it’s like, Inga compared it to shaping honey into a ball using chopsticks, while constantly rotating the chopstick to maintain the ball form. “You really have to zone in on it,” she said. “You have to have tunnel vision.” Despite the level of focus required and perhaps because of it, Inga finds working with glass relaxing. In fact, she said that whenever she’s stressed, she wants to go into the studio and create things. “It’s a form of meditation,” she said, and it gives her a sense of peace.
When she was still in Belize and practicing her new glass-blowing skills, Inga wasn’t terribly fond of the tourist trinkets she made, but tourists seemed to like them, so she kept making them.
At the same time, she also continued to work her other odd jobs and was happily busy and independent when she met her husband, John.
The two met when John’s cousin invited Inga to join them on an eight-person group hike to Victoria Peak, which Inga said is like the Mt. Everest of Belize. She was excited to go on the hike and accepted the invitation with no intentions of starting a relationship with anyone, but John made a point to come to the back of the line to meet her and talk with her.
“I thought he was a little player,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘Boy, I have no time for you.’” She was giving him one-word answers and brushed him off, but he was persistent, and eventually they discovered that they had some things in common and had a really good conversation. By the end of the hike, Inga had changed her mind and even agreed to go on a date with him. They have been together ever since.
Because John is from Belize but American, his U.S. citizenship made it possible for them to move to Louisiana, where they are near his family and Louisiana Tech. Inga is just a freshman at Tech, but she is full of enthusiasm for her fields of study, and she’s using what she learns to make her a better glass artist. Currently, she’s been planning and building the components for a steam engine made entirely of glass that she hopes to surprise her professors with. The project is one that she’s passionate about and one that combines what she’s learning in school with what she’s already learned about working with glass.
Inga believes that sometimes people mistakenly assume that art and science don’t mix well, but she aims to prove otherwise. “One thing I like is that at Tech I’m able to integrate STEM into my art,” she said. “I feel like it merges very well, but nobody else really does it much.” Long ago, this separation of art and science didn’t exist. Some of the greatest figures in the history of art refused to limit themselves to art alone. Michelangelo was not only a sculptor, painter, and poet, but also an architect, scientist, and inventor. Similarly, Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath whose knowledge spanned numerous art forms and a lengthy list of scientific fields. He was a true Renaissance man and an inspiration to Inga.
In fact, Inga has da Vinci’s iconic Vitruvian Man tattooed on her arm, but in the form of a woman, and she strongly believes that he originally sketched the famous drawing as a woman. In any case, it continues to be a symbol of the unity of art and science for many.
For Inga, her artistic skills have made her a better student of the sciences and vice versa. For this reason, she wants to continue to explore both aspects of herself. “If you don’t do something outside your comfort zone, you’ll always be in your circle,” she said, “but being outside your circle is the best part of learning and growing.”
She believes that being an artist has really helped her grow as a person and has helped to make her well-rounded. “It’s helped me expand myself and my ideas,” she said, “and it’s helped me with problem solving and thinking on my feet.”
Because Inga always wished there was someone like her to learn from when she was little, she wants to be that person for other girls. She wants to inspire young girls to get into science and not limit themselves.
Although she didn’t have access to someone like her when she was little, she was fortunate to find a role model when she was working as a mechanic’s assistant in Belize. That person was Reina Gonzales, a petite, female civil engineer, who was serving as project manager for demolition of Belize City Center, a major sports complex, at age 25. Inga found that being a mechanic’s assistant on construction sites brought her close to Gonzales. Inga said, “She would command a fleet of 20 guys on a site, and she held her own, and I was in awe of her. I thought, ‘I want to be like her.’” Inga believes wholeheartedly that if there were more representation of women in STEM fields, there would be more women working in those fields.
According to Inga, young girls need to see women like Gonzales to know those jobs are accessible to them, and Inga wants to be one of those women—one of those role models to young girls. She wants girls to know that they can do whatever they want.
At the same time, Inga is a self-described introvert. Although she can be extroverted at times, being introverted has been a challenge at times. “They always say that artists are very flamboyant,” she said, “but when it comes to displaying my work, I like to sit back and watch people.” Inga likes showing the product itself, but she likes watching from behind the scenes. In fact, during a trip to New Orleans last fall for fashion week, she decided to let her sister-in-law do the talking while she sat back, listening to people’s opinions and observing their reactions to different pieces of work.
When people hear Inga’s accent, which happens the moment she opens her mouth, it’s like they forget about the work and just want to know where she’s from. She feels this can distract from her work, but she’s slowly coming to terms with the need to share more of herself to accomplish her goals. Despite her natural tendency to want to remain in the background, Inga has begun making a concerted effort to give her work and her social media a face—her face. She said it made her feel a little weird and narcissistic at first, but she soon learned that people like seeing more than the work itself. She also realized that showing more of her process and sharing her knowledge could maybe help someone else who is learning.
One reason Inga strives to be open with her knowledge is that she’s been inspired by others who practiced the same willingness to share. One such inspiration is Nikola Tesla, the famous engineer and inventor. “He always thought outside the box,” she said. But she also admires Tesla, and others like him, such as Elon Musk, for their inclination to be open about their discoveries. “The goal for me is to learn as much as I can and make it easier for other people to learn it,” she said.
One thing Inga has noticed in her own hunt for knowledge is that many of the videos and tutorials available on the internet might show how to do something, but they fail to explain the “why.” They don’t explain the underlying reasons that a given process, reaction, machine, experiment, or other endeavor works as it does. Inga said that in cases like these she likes to take it upon herself to explore the “why” for herself, so she can explain it to others. She loves the idea of bringing science and art together to educate and has plans to share her own knowledge online and possibly in workshops in the future.
In fact, she’s already started a YouTube channel and has plans to post tutorials there. “The internet is really limitless,” she said. “You can learn whatever you want.” But at the same time, she likes the idea of hosting small workshops. While the internet is great, it has some limitations when it comes to communication. For that reason, teaching small groups face to face is appealing to Inga. “You can ask questions and get immediate feedback,” she said.
Because she’s always looking for ideas and challenges to explore for herself, especially with science and technology topics, she invites others to reach out to her with their ideas or challenges. With her brains, creativity, and open mind, there are no limits to what Inga can accomplish. To visually remind herself of this fact, she’s placed one of her favorite sculptures in the center of her living room, a Hermes headpiece reminiscent of the mythical Greek god Hermes, who was a messenger capable of moving freely between mortal and divine worlds.
Inga’s headpiece is made of dichroic glass and large feathers. The feathers are reminiscent of the wings often depicted on Hermes’ sandals, and the dichroic glass changes colors according to the angle and lighting, which Inga said gives the sculpture a magical, fluid appearance. From its central place on a table in her living room, the sculpture represents the height our ideas can reach. “If you have wings on your head, your ideas can fly,” she said.