A crafty couple

Alva and Alan Holcombe create beautiful artwork

Created date

March 25th, 2020
Alva Holcombe paints, does leatherwork, and carves gourds. Creating beautiful glass is her newest passion. She's seen here with several of her glass pieces.

Alva Holcombe paints, does leatherwork, and carves gourds. Creating beautiful glass is her newest passion. 

The table is covered with brightly colored glass objects of all shapes and sizes. Azure blues, forest greens, and golden ambers bathe the bowls, vases, trays, and decorative pieces in breathtaking light.  

Their talented creator Alva Holcombe matches some of her creations in a cobalt blue top and dangling glass earring. She’s so petite, she almost blends into the second tier of the display. But step up with a question, and this lively woman is delighted to chat about her enormous passion for creating beautiful things out of glass. 

The 13-year resident of Maris Grove had an extensive fine arts background and continues teaching in the community. “I painted in oils and watercolor, carved gourds, and did leatherwork,” she says. “Glass was a new medium I hadn’t tried, and I jumped in.” 

There was a kiln on site, “but no one knew how to use it,” she recalls. “A retired art therapist showed a few of us how to hand-build clay, and it caught on. We realized the kiln would also work with glass, and one resident shared what he knew about it. I went online, did some research, and the rest is history.” 

That was two and a half years ago. Since then, the community has acquired a glass-only kiln, and Alva continues to experiment with different designs and techniques. “Depending on the kiln setting, you get different results. You can create relief designs, weave strips, fuse or melt the glass. You don’t always know how a piece will turn out, but the surprise is part of the fun.”

Alva continues experimenting, typically by looking online for inspiration. She says, “It’s all here for you. If someone else can do it, I can, too.”

Mapmaker, mapmaker

Alva isn’t the only talented artist in the family. Her husband of 65 years, Alan has been creating maps out of license plates since he retired. Most are in the shape of the state where the plates originated, but he also creates 3-D stars and plaques. His crafting apron features a collage of license plates from around the country. 

He found his inspiration when the couple were vacationing in Florida. Says Alan, “A guy was selling license plates at a flea market, and I had a vision that I could make something interesting out of them. During the drive home, we stopped at every flea market along the way. By the time we reached Pennsylvania, I had more than 100 plates in the trunk.”

His first map took three months to finish. “I experimented at the beginning and figured out how to do it faster,” he says. “The designs have gotten more sophisticated over time too.”

Using only tinsnips and his imagination, Alan cuts maps in the shape of the state and mounts them on wood painted black, also in the shape of the state. “The black makes the map stand out,” he says, “and acts like a frame.” At Alva’s suggestion, he uses glass leading, the material used in stained glassmaking, to hold the pieces together. 

Alan has transferred his map designs to blankets, jigsaw puzzles, and posters, which he sells at craft shows. “People get a kick out of having a unique piece of art that reminds them of home,” he says. “As long as they keep buying, I’ll keep making them.”

This artistic couple loves everything about Maris Grove, particularly the opportunities to learn new things. Alva says, “You can’t beat living in a place like this. Every day there’s something fun and interesting to do.”