The Project

Roots of Knowledge: A Window into the History of Human Intelligence

Utah Valley University (UVU) has witnessed substantial growth since its modest start 75 years ago. What began as a vocational school during World War II is today the largest university in the state. To coincide with its 75th anniversary in November 2016, UVU unveiled an ambitious public art project of extraordinary proportions: Roots of Knowledge.

The bold and large-scale permanent installation taps the ancient storytelling art form of stained glass, while uniquely adapting it for a modern, secular setting. Exploring the evolution of knowledge through this historic medium has provided UVU a palette to create both a singular artistic landmark and powerfully embody the university’s unique commitment to engaged learning. Roots of Knowledge anchors an undulating wall of windows in UVU’s Ira A. and Mary Lou Fulton Library’s Bingham Gallery, comprising 80 individual panes totaling 10 feet in height and 200 feet in length.

A fusion of art, education, and public space, Roots of Knowledge starts with the dawn of humanity and ends with the present day. The series of stained glass windows chronicles the human quest for intellectual advancement and progress. The panes are vibrantly colored glass paintings and interpretations of world history, including major inventions such as the Mayan Calendar and the printing press; important figures such as Joan of Arc and the Kangxi Emperor; major world events, such as Scotland’s Declaration of Arbroath and the American Civil Rights Movement; and thousands of other historical figures, tools, and events. Altogether, Roots of Knowledge incorporates thousands of pieces of glass, as well as actual rock, fossils, coins, meteorite, petrified wood, and coral.

Conceived by Utah artist Tom Holdman and former Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland, Roots of Knowledge combines the work, guidance, and study of 40+ professional artists, 26 UVU scholars and hundreds of UVU students. Roots of Knowledge was unveiled as a permanent installation in the Fulton Library – the heart of the campus – on Nov. 18, 2016. The project was made possible through a public private initiative led by UVU and Holdman Studios with funding from a generous donor community. The west-facing window wall is lit by natural light, and the gallery has become a space for ongoing university events and thought leadership, where the arts and education can flourish.

A Story of Art, History, and Human Drama

Creation process
Placing cut glass inside the lead outlines

Roots of Knowledge is a panorama of history and human drama. The intricate details incorporated into every window represent years of painstaking research on the events and people that shaped humankind from the days of wooly mammoths and cavemen to the iPhone.

The story begins with a life-size depiction of one of the oldest living trees, the bristlecone pine Methuselah, in spring, and its roots and branches travel chronologically, interlacing like the strands of a DNA chain across all 80 panes. Methuselah intersects with a Tree of Life representing various interpretations of the beginning of the world. The windows are rich with colorful and historical detail. A single window shows important representations of the 13th and 14th centuries, including Kublai Khan of the Mongol Empire; the Mosque of Isfahan in Iran; Dante Alighieri, “the Father of the Italian Language”; and the University of Krakow, the oldest university in Poland, whose most famous student was Copernicus. Another, from the late 1800s – early 1900s, includes a quote by Cuban revolutionary Jose Julian Marti; portraits of Marie Curie and Henrik Ibsen; a kiosk in Paris; and the great Indian hornbill, the symbol of the Bombay Natural History Society.

More on the Creation Process

A Model of Engaged Learning

Roots of Knowledge represents the heart of an engaged learning approach nurtured at UVU and is a catalyst for understanding the model.

Using this philosophy, hundreds of students and multiple faculty are participating in the creative process from sourcing historical and cultural content to developing curriculum that will enable Roots of Knowledge visitors to experience and more fully understand every visual element of the wall. Throughout the process, university scholars shaped insights and students provided research that helped inspire Holdman Studios’ teams. Under this model, the art comes to life and transforms into a dynamic learning experience. Engaged learning immerses students in real-world contexts within the curriculum and activities outside the classroom to increase professional competence and confidence.

Content plans for each window pane were supported by a university scholar committee, consisting of a team of professors dedicated to supplying the artists with historically accurate and well-rounded points of view for inspiration.