|Melanie Holmes of Déjà
is an art form using colored glass that permits light to pass through it instead
of drawing on or coloring a surface that reflects light. It is set apart from
nearly all other arts in two dimensions. Ordinarily, designs are made from glass
panes of different colors, held in place by narrow lead strips and enclosed in a
The only known stained glass artist in
the country, Melanie Holmes of San Pedro Town, studied and practiced this art in
her native Canada for more than 20 years before making Belize her home. A
pharmacist by profession, Melanie was introduced to this art in 1979 by a friend
who convinced her to take a stained glass course. When she moved to Belize in
1998, this hobby progressed into a potential second source of income. Since
then, her skills have been requested by several private individuals and
businesses as well as by a patron for St. Joseph's Parish in Belize City.
The use of colored glass for filling windows
dates from Roman times, when blown glass, which can be made very thin, began to
replace molded glass for many purposes. The technique now known as stained glass
is an invention of the 9th
and 10th centuries. The many
surviving examples from the late 11th century on, make it possible to understand exactly how this richly
beautiful art form was done. Stained glass became a major part of church
architecture in the Gothic period, when the style of churches changed. It
replaced the décor of earlier churches, which displayed mural paintings or
mosaics. In Gothic churches, ribs and shafts freed walls from bearing so much of
a building's weight, and stained glass came to be used as a kind of translucent
wall, transmitting and coloring the light that shone on it.
Early Christian, Islamic, and medieval architecture also made limited use of
colored transparent glass. In the 12th century, France and Germany were the
major creative centers. Throughout the next centuries many changes took place in
the art of stained glass, evolving from windows in abbeys, cathedrals, and early
monuments into mosaics popular in Italy and Switzerland.
For a time, the requests for stained glass went through a period of decline. The
architecture of the High Renaissance and after had little use for stained glass.
This trend continued until the 19th century, when renewed interest in the Gothic period led to the
restoration of existing monuments and the building of new churches in the Gothic
style. In England, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris worked to revive the
art. In the United States, at the end of the century, Louis Comfort Tiffany made
stained glass a popular form of interior decoration.
Although there are many forms, techniques and glasses
used in stained glass, Melanie Holmes explained her methods for working with
glass and how she comes by her materials. Since some colors allow much more
light to pass through than others do, choosing glass to work with is a task in
itself. Glass comes in a kaleidoscope of colors produced by adding oxides of
various metals to the sand and other elements from which glass is made. For
example, cobalt and chromium produce blue. In the art of stained glass, there
are basically two types of glass used: cathedrals, which are transparent and
transmit light very well; and opalescent (opals), characterized by a milky,
translucent look. >From these two general categories, dozens of types and
textures of glass are manufactured such as: glue chip, wispy, ripple, corded,
crackle and ring-mottled.
Melanie often selects her glass
from a catalog, but many
times she must travel to Houston, Texas in order to see the true colors, and to
choose that special sheet of glass since no two sheets of art glass are alike.
Her order is shipped in two by four-foot sheets by truck from the US to Belize
in volumes of 40-50 panels of glass per crate and then transported by barge to
the island. "Fortunately, most deliveries are not damaged in transit and very
few pieces have ever been destroyed," Melanie exclaimed.
Although a variety of techniques, tools and methods are used in creating a
stained glass work of art, Melanie summarized the way she works. First, she or
the customer makes a selection from a pre-fabricated or original design.
Commercial patterns or templates from books may be chosen or custom designs
drawn on paper. Glass is selected and cut to match the shapes shown on the model
using a variety of tools to cut out the shapes. Melanie then trims it to size
using special "grozing" pliers and grinders to mold the glass edges to
perfection. After the pieces fit like a completed jigsaw puzzle, the framework
for the piece is laid out using metal channels or copper foil to encase the
glass pieces in the design. Then the joints are soldered together and the
finished piece is cleaned. Just like that - another work of art is ready to be
Melanie credits her grandmother for passing
down a talent for arts and crafts. She claims her creative inspiration blossomed
though from living in Belize's tropical paradise for the past four years.
Designs that once came only from books or magazines, are now inspired from the
flora, fauna, sparkling waters and amazing light found in her natural
Melanie's styles include traditional, art
deco, abstract or individual designs. Although it is a popular misconception,
Melanie stated emphatically, "I do not paint glass." She does not bevel glass
either, but will etch designs on stained glass using an acid-etching technique.
At her client's request, Melanie creates stained glass lamps, door panels,
windows, kitchen cabinets, bathroom window panels and patio stones, beautifying
a number of local residences as well as businesses, including Celi's Restaurant
and Banana Beach Resort. Local photographer Kay Scott was her first residential
client, commissioning an orchid window for her home. Melanie's artwork can also
be seen adorning the windows of the San Pedro Post Office and decorating the
panes of Isla Bonita Gallery and Frame Shop. One of her most challenging
requests is displayed inside the home of local resident Ramon Nuñez. Requested
by his daughter-in law Josie, this custom-designed hanging features a stained
glass portrait of three of Ramon's favorite dogs: a poodle, a Rottweiler and a
Located three miles south of San Pedro in a
picturesque little yellow cottage, Melanie's studio and gift shop, Déjà Vu
Glassworks, is absolutely filled from floor to ceiling with colorful items to
adorn a home, or body. Also filling her studio is the work of several local
artists which Melanie describes as a variety of "unique handcrafted art, sold
exclusively at my shop." True to that statement, at Déjà Vu you will find
everything from sun-catchers and intricately designed tiffany-style lamps to
Batik wall hangings and clothing. Oil paintings, giftware, pillows, hand-painted
household items, ornaments and greeting cards are also available for sale.
On any day, (except Thursday and Sunday), from 9:00 a.m. to
noon and 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. you can find Melanie delighting in the creation of
another unique piece of art, designed to catch your eye. More than just
decorative pieces, her stained glass treasures of light truly reflect the beauty
of the place she now calls home, "La Isla Bonita".