The world of glass

Utah artist loves the versatility of shaping glass

Published: Sunday, Oct. 2 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

l-r: Vicente Martin and Treavor Holdman make a platter at the Holdman Studios in Lehi, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

LEHI — Glass is one of the most amazing compounds on the planet. Liquid at high temperatures, brittle at cooler ones, often transparent but able to absorb almost any color, often associated with light and brilliance, glass is one of the oldest manmade substances, dating back to Mesopotamia and about 3,500 B.C.

It is also one of the most artistic. From the stained glass windows of medieval times to the rise of art glass in the 19th century with the likes of Rene Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany, to modern studios today, glass has decorated our world.

"It has so many possibilities," said Tom Holdman, director of Holdman Studios and the Art Institute, which have been housed at Thanksgiving Point since 2005. "You can blow it, cut it, carve it, sculpt it, fuse it together. That's what I love about it, that versatility."

Holdman has been designing glass art since 1988. He was drawn to arts at an early age. "I've had a speech impediment, struggled with stuttering my whole life, so I had to look to other ways to express myself. I've always done sketches and drawings."

But it was when he was returning from an LDS mission in Texas that he "felt impressed that I needed to do art glass, to make that my career. I was a little surprised, because I hadn't thought about that before."

He had been fortunate enough to take a class in stained glass from James Cloward at Orem High School, which at the time was the only stained glass course being taught in the state. "That had opened my eyes to the possibilities of glass, and I felt this was what God wanted me to do," Holdman said.

"I asked my parents to pull their cars out of the garage and let me use it as a studio. Then I went knocking on doors around the neighborhood to see if anyone wanted a stained glass window."

As soon as he had done a few projects and scraped together enough money for airfare and a rental car, he and his brother went to Europe.

"We drove around for a month, and slept in the car most of the time, because we didn't have money for hotels, but we spent hours on end examining the great cathedrals of Europe," Holdman said. He remembers, in particular, standing at the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, looking at stained glass done by Alfons Mucha. "I was moved so much. I knew I wanted to do pieces on this scale."

His parents were always very supportive, says Holdman. His father was a professional photographer and shot for National Geographic Magazine. "He would check us out from school to go help with an assignment, and as we were hiking through the woods, he would explain art principles. There are eight of us children, and they are all artists." His younger brother Treavor is in charge of the hot glass work at their studio.

His father passed on another bit of good advice about "starving artists." "My father told me that was because they spend 90 percent of their time making art and only 10 percent of the time selling it," Holdman said. "In the beginning it should be the opposite, until you can build a name for yourself."

It's a formula that has worked well for Holdman. He's at the point now where people come to him; he now gets commissions all over the world.

Current projects include stained glass for the Boise Idaho Temple as it undergoes renovation, which will mark 20 LDS temples that he has done work for around the world. He's also done work for Catholic and Presbyterian churches and is working on an 8-foot round stained glass window for La Virgin de Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mesquite, Nev.

Holdman is also embarking on a stained glass piece for the library at Utah Valley University that will be 10-feet high and 150-feet long and will tell the history of learning and knowledge throughout the world through words and images.

"It is our Sistine Chapel," Holdman said. "It will take us three years to create. The window will have sculptural elements that will come off the window and reach to the ceiling."

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