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'Illuminating glass': The stained-glass windows of Tom Holdman utilize color and light to inspire

It's rare in today's overly cynical and often disingenuous contemporary art world to find an artist who actually believes in God — especially a God who is likable: a benevolent, caring being through whom the artist derives inspiration and direction.

Such an artist is Tom Holdman, a creator of stained-glass windows who shares the belief of early Christian architects and craftsmen: Stained glass can help lift men's souls closer to the divine.

Stained-glass windows — especially during the Gothic period (13th-14th century) — provided an expression of faith for medieval man. The windows freed the Bible from its pages, allowing its stories to become a visual tapestry that taught the largely illiterate masses the messages of the prophets and Jesus; the windows made the church a special, sacred dwelling place for all who entered and partook of the beauty.

For Holdman, nothing has changed. His art-glass windows — regardless of their subject matter or ultimate place of installation — are expressions of his faith. "Stained glass speaks to me," he said. "It not only speaks to me, it sings to me."

Because glass is a form of matter with gas, liquid and solid-state properties — a super-cooled liquid, if you will — "there is so much you can do with it," Holdman said. " You can angle it, you can add paint to it, you can heat it up in an oven and melt it, and you can shape it. It's limitless."

Growing up with a heavy speech impediment (a condition from which he suffers still), Holdman spent many hours drawing. He became quite good at art but he also developed a strong belief in God and His purposes. As a young man returning home from a two-year mission for the LDS Church, Holdman felt inspired to become a stained-glass artist and has never looked back.

"I had some experience with stained-glass art in high school," he said, "but that was all." When he didn't qualify for entrance to Brigham Young University to study art, Holdman decided to teach himself the craft. "I read books, bought the tools and just started right into it."

He asked his parents if he could use their garage to set up his shop, and then "I started knocking on doors, asking people if they wanted a stained-glass window."

During this time, Holdman saved up enough money to visit Europe and see the stained-glass windows of the great cathedrals. "I went for a whole month," he said. "I was in Czechoslovakia, in a cathedral, and I saw this window, and I stood there for an hour just looking at it. I was moved to my very soul." Holdman knew he didn't have enough experience to create such a work of art, but "I stood looking at that window and knew I needed to do one like it."

He got the opportunity when he returned home and noticed the Orem Library making an addition to its children's area. When he approached the library about filling a rather large opening with stained glass, he was told that it wasn't in their budget. "So I said, 'What if I were to raise the money for it? Then would you do it?' The library agreed and Holdman raised the money through a private investor.

"Yes, I didn't know how to even start," he said. "But I had passion in my heart. I believe if you have passion, you're halfway there." It took a year and a half to complete the project, and today his windows are among the library's finest features.

Holdman admits he's been blessed, "but as an artist you also have to make opportunities for yourself. You have to make it happen. You can't just hang out a sign and expect people to come calling. You'd be a starving artist for the rest of your life."

Because he not only does glass for residences, libraries and other facilities, as well as religious organizations, Holdman must hire many assistants. But he has no complaints — working with others on his projects has become an end in itself; it encourages the "spirit of voluntarism," a principle the artist is committed to promoting.

"I feel a person is more important than a stained-glass window," he said. "If a person helps with making a monumental piece of art, they feel they are helping in the community, but they also become attached to that piece of art. It means more to them. It will speak to them."

This desire to have others participate in the magic of art glass, and the incredible growth of his studio, has prompted Holdman to move his facility to a 10,000 square-foot building at Thanksgiving Point. "So we are going to continue to create monumental works of art using volunteers, but on a much larger scale."

Holdman said the new facility will also have glassblowing classes and workshops "where a person can come in off the street and learn how to do it."

The goal is to teach people stained glass, hot glass, painting, sculpture and work in all areas of art. "With the classes and workshops, all the money that is earned will go into a fund where it will be used to do monumental works of art all over the world."

"Let's say there's this library that wants an art-glass window, but they only have a budget of $8,000. We say, 'Yeah, but to do this window right, to do the story you want to share, it will cost $16,000. Then the Holdman Art Foundation will match their $8,000."

Holdman wants to put monumental works of art in more churches, hospitals and homeless shelters, offsetting the cost through the Holdman Art Foundation. That's his mission.

"Artwork speaks to a person whether you speak English or French or Spanish; you can still understand the language of art. Whether you're LDS or Catholic or Protestant, you can still see the image of the Savior." And that's ultimately what Holdman wants — for everyone who looks at his art glass to see and feel the divine.

Just as he has.

Large projects by Holdman Studios

Orem City Library

American Fork Library

Palmyra New York Temple

Winter Quarters Omaha Temple

Nauvoo Illinois Temple

Mill Creek Ward Chaple restoration in Salt Lake City

Hill Cumorah Visitor Center

Sao Paulo Brazil Temple

Stained glass reproduction of Carl Bloch's "Pool of Bethezda"

Manhattan New York Temple

Palmyra New York Temple addition

San Antonio Texas Temple