AMERICAN FORK — An artist had dreams of creating a stained glass window for his church building — and then he gave them away.
Tom Holdman, lauded art glass creator and winner of this year's Best of State Award for Arts and Entertainment, always thought it would be neat to design a window for the LDS meetinghouse he attended each Sunday.
Holdman's work has now been featured in 20 LDS temples and churches of all denominations far and wide. It seemed natural to him to make one for his own congregation, so he sketched an intricate blueprint and sought the necessary approvals to make it happen.
Meanwhile, members of the Community Presbyterian Church in American Fork were worried about the integrity of the large windows at the front of their chapel.
"They weren't structurally sound to last the span of time," said Laura Mitchell, an elder on the church's Session. "(They) started to fold into each other." The windows weren't original to the church building, which was dedicated in 1884. They had been added in the 1970s and posed a present-day hazard. So the church formed a committee to raise funds and come up with a plan.
Enter Holdman and his company of trained art glass professionals. They worked closely with the church to develop something that would fit within the budget and add light and a sense of spirit to the space.
"We have a lot of incredible visionaries in this church," said Paula Vigil-Yates, chairwoman of the stained glass window committee. "A lot of people who dream big."
Using large pieces of glass rather than lots of small ones would reduce the price significantly — which was important considering all funds would come from donations. The group worked on sketches and looked at windows Holdman already had in stock, but everything they saw just seemed to be a little off.
"They were not right for the space," Vigil-Yates said.
And then Holdman remembered the sketch for his pet project, the one he wanted to light up his own church. The one with tiny flower details, Christ in the center and jewel-shaped glass elements along the border.
He felt compelled to show the rendering to the committee, and when they said they loved it, he kind of regretted showing it to them. He just wasn't sure if he could part with it. As Holdman tells it, he prayed, and God minced no words in telling him what to do.
"He said 'yes' to me, and I said, 'Do I have to?' " Holdman recounted.
For two years, he and his fellow artists worked on the project, which the company took on while working on four temple projects for the LDS Church, including the Draper Temple, which alone required some 600 pieces of art glass. Holdman's window work graces spaces in temples such as those in Palmyra, Nauvoo, Manhattan and Tahiti, among others.
The 14-foot window for Community Presbyterian was installed Monday, July 12, and unveiled Saturday at a reception for community and church members.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church addressed Community Presbyterian's crowd Saturday, saying he was pleased that community members from all different faiths were gathered to celebrate the beautiful addition to the small church.
"What we're here to celebrate today is a thing of beauty," Elder Holland said. "Beauty has always been linked to truth. And truth is the ultimate pursuit of any religion. … That is one thing we all have in common."
When the black drape hiding the window was ceremoniously dropped, one man in the filled pews offered a loud "amen," and the rest of the audience erupted in applause.
Holdman said the artwork is a standout for him because so many different faiths worked to bring it to fruition. Volunteers and artists from across the spectrum came together.
"With this project, I feel that it is one of the best if not the best piece of art I have ever done," he said. "It has even in a greater way helped me to grow a love for the saints and other churches and not just the LDS faith."
The Rev. Al Hammond said at the unveiling, "No art can truly capture the glory of God, and yet art such as this can help us to worship God."
Holdman, who has a speech impediment, explained to the congregation some of the subtler symbolism of the window. He pointed out the way Jesus seemed to be walking toward the audience, and he identified small stars that flicker in the light at the top of the masterpiece.
Stained glass is Holdman's favorite form of expression, he said. "With my stuttering, I have learned to speak through art."
"God gave him this gift, and he has shared this gift with us and with our community and with the world," Vigil-Yates said.