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Guatemala: U.S. artist shares his skill and love of stained glass art with Guatemala’s Mayans

By Anna-Claire Bevan

For over 50 years, Lyn Hovey has been working with stained glass, using 13th and 14th century painting techniques to create complex and authentic works of art. From a 30-foot-tall window in a school chapel in the U.S., to a spherical steel and stained glass awning in Taiwan, his designs decorate offices, churches, schools, hospitals and homes around the world.

Lyn Hovey (left) consults with one of his Guatemalan workers on a special request stained glass piece for a private residence. (Photo: Lyn Hovey)

In 1972, Hovey opened up his first studio in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2000, he met two Mayan elders from Guatemala traveling in the U.S. They invited him to visit their country. Hovey accepted their invitation and it wasn’t long before he became transfixed with the country, its people and culture. His new-found affection for Guatemala inspired him to open a studio in 2003 in La Antigua, Guatemala.

“My vision is to bring the art of stained glass to this region by teaching my art to Guatemalans and indigenous Mayans,” Hovey explains. “The Mayan people are natural artists with one of the world’s richest and oldest artistic traditions. By bringing my art to Guatemala, I hope to give back to this region and its people my ancient art form, for they have blessed my spirit with kindness, generosity and beauty.”

Alongside a small team of local experts, the talented artist specializes in creating stained glass windows, illuminated mirrors and Tiffany-inspired bent glass lampshades – all created using the traditional painting and firing method.

“I don’t know of any other firm making bent glass lamps,” says Hovey. “I think it shows the skill of the Guatemalan work force that here you find this complicated design.”

Last year, Hovey was presented with a sketch of a traditional Guatemalan huipil (a traditional woven blouse worn by indigenous Guatemalan women) and challenged to execute it into a unique stained glass window for a house on the outskirts of Antigua.

“We wanted a stained glass window with a typical Guatemalan design on it, and there’s nothing more Guatemalan than textiles,” says the homeowner, Jan Theberge.

It took the artist, Corinna Wittel, just 10 minutes to sketch the design, which she originally intended to give to Theberge as a sample. However, as soon as Theberge saw it, she thought it was perfect and passed Wittel’s rough huipil draft straight onto Hovey.

The finished stained glass window modeled after the traditional Guatemalan blouse known as the huipil. (Photo: Lyn Hovey)

“I’ve always loved stained glass windows and have had some designed for me before, but they don’t compare to Lyn’s work. The first day the window was put in I just sat in the rocking chair enjoying it – it’s beyond all expectations,” says Theberge.

Using gold to bring out the pinks and purples of the design, Hovey and his team worked for two months to finish the window, which they installed last April.

“It’s so perfect that we don’t want to curtain it, we’re just going to leave it as it is. It’s beautiful and when the sun comes through it sparkles,” says Theberge.

The family is so fond of the window that they have asked Wittel to sketch another huipil design for them using a slightly different palette, and for Lyn to transform it into another Guatemalan-inspired stained glass window for their house in Antigua.

Anna-Claire Bevan is a Guatemala-based freelance correspondent for Latina Lista.

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