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."
It will also include small platter pieces with a quote carved on them that will be scattered throughout the campus. A science quote in the science building, for example; a literary quote in the English department. People will be able to sponsor one of the platters.
"It's our biggest undertaking yet," he said.
The first big piece he did was for the children's library in Orem. It is 8 feet high and 36 feet long and is filled with fairytale figures.
"When I first approached them, they told me they liked the idea, but did not have any money in the budget," Holdman said. "I asked them if I could do it if I could raise the money for it. They said yes, and so I did."
That's another thing he has learned about being an artist. "If you want it bad enough, if you want it more than air to breathe, you can be a success. But you need to want it more than air. I need to do art, or I don't think I could exist."
That's one reason he started the Art Institute, to share that passion with others. "I want this to be a place where people can come and see artists making monumental pieces of art, and maybe it will inspire them to live their dream."
The institute offers classes in painting, pottery and other media, to both children and adults. In addition, anyone can come in and make a glass flower.
"They are really stretched, not blown," said Amilia Smith, office manager at the institute, but it lets you see what working with glass is like. One flower is $25, or you can do three for $65. "We do take walk-ins, if the furnaces are going, but it's probably best for call in advance."
The number is 801-766-4111; more information can also be found online.
They also offer art glass pieces for sale. Platters of various sizes that can be hung on a wall or placed on a table are one of the signature works of Holdman Studios, says Smith.
Visitors are welcome anytime, says Holdman. Perhaps they will see something that will inspire them, if not to do art, perhaps to appreciate art, perhaps to look at the world a little differently, perhaps to have a better day.
"Our goal is to provide a place to inspire hearts," he said.
That's what glasswork can do.
"The beauty of glass is that you are working in a trio partnership. There's me, the glass and light," Holdman said. "If I let the glass go where it wants to go as it speaks to me, after I'm done, after hours and hours of work, I hold it up and let the light take hold. It's such a marvelous experiences to see how, as you move around, the light changes. And you find you have not one piece of art, but hundreds of pieces of art, always altering, always changing. That's what I love about glass."