For anyone who has seen Tom Holdman sitting next to his wife, Gayle, in an office with walls covered floor to ceiling with big plans, detailed designs, and pictures of past projects, it’s hard to imagine that anything has ever held him back. Yet dozens of little leaves made of green glass hang from that office ceiling—one for each time Tom has been overwhelmed by one of his next big ideas. The leaves are a striking metaphor for something that the Holdmans have come to realize throughout their life together: challenges can lead to something beautiful.
A Surprising Prompting
“When I was growing up, I always had a slow tongue, so I turned to art as a way that I could express myself,” Tom says. He began to flourish in the language of art after being encouraged by his second-grade teacher, Mrs. Wilcox (mother of author and speaker Brad Wilcox), but he still sometimes viewed his stutter as a stumbling block, including when he was considering missionary service.
“To go on a mission was really overwhelming to me and daunting, but I just really felt moved that I needed to show the Lord that I loved Him and I love the gospel,” Tom shares. His faith saw him through a full-time mission in Dallas, Texas, where, one week before he was supposed to go home, his mission president asked Tom if he would extend his service for a few months. Overwhelmed once more, Tom recalls, “I was on my knees, and the Spirit entered into my heart, and the Lord said, ‘If you stay, I will bless you.’ And that’s all I heard. I was still on my knees, waiting for the Lord, and I asked, ‘Well, how will you bless me?’ He spoke to my very soul—my very core—and He said, ‘You need to do art glass as your occupation.’”
Though he had only taken one class in that medium as a teenager, Tom’s answer was clear. He stayed.
Art Glass and Meeting Gayle
Almost as soon as he returned home, Tom set up a studio in his parents’ garage and began looking for people who wanted stained glass. During that time, he became acquainted with Gayle Terry.
Gayle’s family had moved into Tom’s ward while he was on his mission. They had gone to the same high school, and she had seen Elder Holdman’s missionary plaque on the church wall enough times before she left on a mission to Chile that she called Tom by name when she saw him at church after she came home. Her greeting caught his attention, and they soon began dating.
Gayle immediately became a big part of Tom’s art glass endeavors— she even helped create the stained glass windows that paid for her engagement and wedding rings. But that was only the beginning of their partnership. Not long after the two were sealed in the Manti Utah Temple, Tom pitched a stained glass window idea to the Orem Public Library. He and Gayle approached Karen and Alan Ashton, who agreed to fund the window and gift it to the new library. The panels depicting popular children’s stories caught the attention of a Church designer, who asked Tom to submit a sketch of a window depicting the First Vision for the Palmyra New York Temple. That window was ultimately approved, along with 108 exterior stained glass windows that Tom had felt inspired to design as well. “That, to me, was a humbling experience to be able to work on a temple of God for the first time,” Tom says.
"Joseph Smith's First Vision" window in the Palmyra New York Temple.
Temples, Temples, and More Temples
Since Palmyra, the Holdmans have been involved in creating or restoring windows for temples around the world, including those in Winter Quarters, Nebraska; Manhattan, New York; Payson, Utah; Tijuana, Mexico; Sapporo, Japan; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Though it is not possible for Holdman Studios to make windows for every temple, the team puts careful research into the temples they do design windows for, making sure they create art that is significant to the local culture. Tom shares, “As we work through the design elements—like in Fiji we worked with the palm leaves that overlap with each other and in Paris we show a lily and other flowers of the country of France—we look for those impressions of the home around the local Saints. This is a worldwide church, and one design doesn’t fit all.”
Always, no matter the temple or theme, the couple’s purpose is the same. Tom explains: “[We hope] that the art glass windows are not distracting but that they are in harmony with the furniture and the walls and the fixtures and help to create a calming atmosphere where a person can step away from the world and speak to their inner self.” Gayle adds, “We hope that a person can feel almost even more at home there than in their own home, because you’re returning to your Father’s home.”
While Tom and Gayle are quick to acknowledge that every temple is a miracle, some of their experiences working on temples stand out as particularly special.
While creating windows for the San Antonio Texas Temple, Tom wanted to use agate—a stone with an ugly exterior but a glasslike appearance inside. When he took a trip to the temple site and told his plan to a senior construction missionary, the man became surprisingly emotional. Gayle recalls, “The missionary took Tom back to his construction trailer and showed him a big pile of very ugly rocks that everybody had teased him for keeping. He said, ‘When we started digging the foundation for this temple, there was a break in the earth. We could tell there was a space underneath, and I stuck my head in there and saw there was all this rock.’”
Some of the agate from the cave.
The man insisted that they remove the rock before they filled in the cave to make the temple’s foundation. Gayle continues, “Sure enough, [the rock] was beautiful agate, so some of the agate for that temple came from the actual temple site.” The experience was made even more meaningful when Tom came across a startling Isaiah prophecy about temples in the Book of Mormon: “And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones” (3 Nephi 22:12, emphasis added). To this day, Tom tries to include a little piece of agate in every temple he works on. During the same time period, Tom received a call from a member of the Church who had original pieces of glass from the first Latter-day Saint chapel in San Antonio, which had since been torn down. She sent the pieces to Tom, who was shocked to see that they were almost a perfect match for glass they were already using in the windows of that temple. It was yet one more representation of the Lord’s hand in the building of His holy temples.
A stained glass image in the San Antonio Texas Temple made from some of the agate found beneath the temple’s foundation.
Another miracle happened when Tom was telling the story of the agate to a man working with him on changing the entrance to the Papeete Tahiti Temple. The man had been less active, and when Tom read the scripture in 3 Nephi to him, he became excited and left for a short time. He returned with pieces of fossilized red coral and some rare shells he’d retrieved from the ocean and hung onto for many years. The pieces turned out to be carbuncle—the other stone mentioned in the scripture—and the Holdmans were able to incorporate it into the temple doors (gateways) that they were restoring. The experience strengthened the man’s testimony, and he began to return to activity. “That’s a miracle. You never know when in your life you’re going to have an opportunity to be part of something like that,” Gayle attests. “Even when we struggle, I don’t think the light of Christ ever leaves.”
Devoted Designers and Parents
When Tom first started designing art glass, Gayle largely took on the role of spokeswoman for the company, making phone calls and gathering support. Now, Tom explains, “We have over 80 talented artists who are all working on different elements of the art. And as the head artist, it is my goal to make sure that we’re all beating to the same heartbeat.” As Tom has become more confident in speaking for himself and the company, Gayle’s role has shifted to doing more of the writing and editing required for the studio. No matter what she’s doing, though, it’s easy to see that Gayle is just as invested in the work as her husband is. She loves to share the details of their projects and values the way she and Tom complement each other. As Gayle explains it, she is more of a designer than an illustrator, but if she describes her artistic vision, Tom can bring it to life in drawings. Likewise, what Tom expresses best through art, Gayle can quickly translate into words.
Despite this unity in work and in the gospel, their business has not evolved without sacrifices and struggles, particularly for Gayle. “As a mom, I balance that a lot: being with my children and raising them as the primary nurturer and wanting to assist Tom as the primary provider. I’m a wife and I’m a mother, and I’m an artist and a business owner, and it’s a lot.”
She continues, “Our children have had to live without us for some important events. That’s hard. I didn’t see my daughter go to Sadie Hawkins one year because I was traveling for a temple. I wasn’t there for my youngest son’s 10th birthday—when he turned double digits. That was a big sacrifice, but he allowed us to go.”
Though the Holdman children have made sacrifices over the years to allow their parents to fulfill their responsibilities, they have also had opportunities to participate. “Tom took our son, who was 15 at the time, to work on the Accra Ghana Temple with him, and that son is on a mission now,” Gayle says. She also remembers Tom taking the same son as a 5-year-old on a father-son road trip to deliver the baptistry window for the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. Two of their children have spent time helping in the second Holdman studio in Ensenada, Mexico, their youngest son helped design some windows for the Rome temple, and their oldest son was Tom’s right-hand man until he left on his mission last year. Holdman Studios is undoubtedly a family business.
When in Rome
Holdman Studios helped design the stained glass for both the Provo City Center Utah and Rome Italy temples. But when both buildings were originally due to be completed at the same time, they had to pick only one to actually build the windows for. It was a difficult choice, but once the decision was made, they and their team put their full effort into creating beautiful windows for the Rome Italy Temple and the adjoining visitors’ center.
“The theme of the Rome temple is the olive leaf,” Tom says. “The abstract lines, they form large olive leaves, which then turn into smaller olive leaves, as if they’re being harvested. The temple itself has that curvature as well,” he continues. “When I first saw the blueprints, I thought, it’s almost as if the building is an olive leaf.”
The New Rome Italy Temple
But why this particular type of leaf? Gayle explains that the olive leaf is not only a part of the history of Rome but is also an emblem of the priesthood and hearkens back to the Savior’s Atonement in Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives.
The Rome temple isn’t the only building on the grounds with stunning imagery related to the Savior. The Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center will feature a breathtaking Christ-centered pictorial window created by Holdman Studios.
Gayle shares, “Ultimately, this window represents a snapshot of a moment in the life of the mortal ministry of Christ. You see Him in this marketplace, where He has stopped what He is doing to focus on ‘the one.’ That’s a huge theme, being that we all, actually, are ‘the one.’ The art piece is an unequivocal testimony that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our Savior, Redeemer, and Healer.”
Tom and Gayle Holdman assembling stained glass pieces of the Come unto Me window.
► See more pictures like these in 20 Stunning Behind-The-Scenes Images of the Come unto Me Window
With over 100 people, parables, stories, and miracles from the Savior’s recorded ministry portrayed in the glass, the Holdmans love to challenge people with a smile: “Name a parable and we will tell you where it is in the window!” With depictions of dozens of familiar New Testament stories, the window is meant to be a missionary tool and to emphasize the Savior as the center of the Church. One of the more artistic ways in which the window draws its viewers to Christ is through visual lines and a vanishing point focused on the Savior, depicted in the very center of the window. From the arm of the woman reaching out to the position of the stones on the ground, the angle of the young man’s crutch, and the angle of the buildings themselves, everything subtly directs attention back to Jesus Christ. Ultimately, though, Gayle says, “We’re hoping that maybe you’ll learn something more about the Savior as you think about a parable you’ve heard a million times or maybe an aspect about it that you never really understood.”
The Holdmans look forward to many more opportunities to serve their God through the creation of art glass for His temples and for His children throughout the world. “We’re making literal stained glass windows, and at the same time, it’s always reminding me of us as God’s children,” Gayle says. “We’re like pieces of a stained glass window. We all have a part, and the Ultimate Artist, who is God, has the whole design in mind. It is an overwhelming, a humbling, and a gratifying experience when the Lord helps you to succeed. When, after it is all finished and you step back, you realize that you’re only an instrument. And look what He was able to create to help His children on earth to draw near unto Him.”