Jeanette Bennett, utahvalley360.com
Photos by Willie Holdman
Highland artist Tom Holdman took his number out of the phone book. “I was just getting too much business,” he says. Not a bad problem to have for a business that’s only about a decade old. But Glass Elegance has some big clients: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thanksgiving Point and SCERA Theater, just to name a few.
Tom’s story of becoming an artist doesn’t have anything to do with specialized art training or lifelong plans. Ten years ago, Tom was getting ready to come home from his LDS mission in Dallas. His mission president asked him to extend.
“When I prayed about it, I felt the spirit tell me that I would be blessed if I stayed,” Tom says. “I wanted specifics. How was I going to be blessed?”
That’s when a surprising answer came to the young missionary.
“When you get home, do art glass windows,” Tom felt the spirit say. This came as a bit of a surprise, as Tom’s only art glass background was one course at Orem High School.
But Tom was dedicated to fulfilling his life’s work. When he returned from knocking on doors for his religion, he began knocking on doors in Utah County to see if people would want art glass windows.
“Looking back I’m so glad I got all that experience working on homes,” Tom says. “It really prepared me for my work on the LDS temples.”
Working on the temples around the world has become a passion for Tom, who works in a large shop behind his home in north Utah County. In fact, the man Tom bought his house and workshop from previously used the facility to raise rabbits. Tom bought it, cleaned it and turned it into one of the most important art workshops in the state.
Tom began his relationship as an artist for the Church of Jesus Christ by being asked to sketch the First Vision.
“I was obsessed with the project, and I completed it in eight days.” Tom says. “The church loved it.”
Tom’s work has been featured in the Ensign, the Church News and other religious and regional publications.
Although all artwork has to be approved by President Gordon B. Hinckley, Tom has only met him on two occasions. President Hinckley told Tom, who has a speech impediment, not to be too concerned with his speaking abilities.
Tom already felt that way and realizes what could have been a stumbling block has been a blessing to his art.
“I had to find another way to speak and tell people what I was feeling,” he says. “So my speech setback has actually helped me to get really good.”
As a student at Orem High School, Tom says he always had an art pad with him. He sketched during science and math class, and his parents were, at times, concerned.
Tom’s family — both the one he grew up with and his new family — play important roles in Glass Elegance. Tom’s sister Tiffany and brother Trevor both work for him by cutting glass, staining the glass, and designing the pieces.
Tom, although slow in speech, is quick in passion for his craft. But he also knows he doesn’t do it alone.
“I hop on my knees and ask for inspiration, and then I hop up and work really hard,” Tom says, with an honesty about him as transparent as unstained glass.
In fact, Tom sees himself as just a vessel for the art to come through, with little recognition for his own skills and talent.
“To be honest, I’m not that smart,” Tom says. Yet somehow, his glass is full of symbolism and unmatched beauty.
One of Tom’s first high-profile projects was the Orem Library. But now he says he’s tired of that and wants to focus on his new style, which is mostly religious in nature.
In fact, his large square office is scattered with architectural renderings of LDS temples in the works, as he is designing windows and glass domes.
Regardless of Tom’s world-class assignments, his business is more about creating the right art lines than it is about the bottom line. Advertising, impressive office space and wearing a tie are not required at Glass Elegance.