Eye on the Sky

Eye on the Sky

New glass art panels adorn the Scottsdale Airport Aviation Business Center

By Lauren Wise

When artist Martin Donlin began to study architectural stained glass in South Wales in the mid-‘80s, he never dreamed that 30 years later, he would be known for inspirational glass installations all over the world, from Germany and Kazakhstan to Michigan and Texas. He creates masterpieces on both a large and small scale, layering vibrant colors and images that draw in passersby, only to reveal intricate details and text reflecting the artwork’s environment upon closer examination.

“I thought that my future was in making stained glass for churches; I loved that symbolism,” Donlin says. Then over the years, his career quickly took off in another direction.

Donlin’s soaring, meta-aesthetic is embodied in things like his monumental piece at the Greater Manchester Police headquarters, a blue and white layered image piecing together portraits and text about Manchester and the history of policing, which climbs almost 70 feet up the wall of the main entrance; and the flowing wall of glass at Dallas Love Field Airport, which stretches almost 80 feet long and features the pioneering aviator for whom Love Field is named and a collage of native plant and bird life, plus poems relating to man’s desire to fly, words reminiscent of dream-like plane vapor trails connecting everything in the artwork’s “sky.”

From small sacred spaces to large public buildings, Donlin’s art is all about connecting a building’s architecture and the local history, and inviting visitors to do the same. In October 2018, Scottsdale Public Art unveiled a striking new installation by Donlin, who found the desert metropolis inspiring.

“Arizona was so appealing to me,” Donlin explains. “The landscape and the sunshine — we don’t have anything like it in the UK.”

Installed at the Scottsdale Airport Aviation Business Center, the exhibit – which the artist titled “from Land and from Air” and “Sun and Moon” – features 30 digitally printed and sandblasted glass pieces, showcased on the first two levels of the building.

In the lobby, 15 glass panels surround the elevators, creating a feeling of “looking down” at the Arizona landscape. The panels include topographical maps relating to Scottsdale and the surrounding desert from the last few centuries, imagery of plants and animal tracks, early Hohokam canal system maps, and swirling plane vapor trails. There is also poetry incorporated into the design by Tohono O’odham Tribe member Ofelia Zepeda; Natalie Diaz, a member of the Mojave and Gila River tribes; and Richard Shelton, emeritus Regents Professor of English at the University of Arizona.

On the second level, “from Land and from Air” continues with a second set of 15 pieces of glass representing the perspective of the landscape as one is looking straight at it, on ground level.

“It showcases the McDowell Mountains and references the necessity — and scarcity — of rain,” Donlin says. “The transparent dots scattered across the glass are reminiscent of how one can see abstract colors through raindrops.”

On the top level, “Sun and Moon” is a single tall piece of antique stained glass, and emulates the feeling of one “looking at the heavens.” The only glass that is an actual window, it depicts two acid-etched moons and a sun. It was hand-cut and colored, and fired three to five times to achieve certain colors.

The art was fabricated at century-old Glasmalerei Peters Studios in Paderborn, Germany at a third- and fourth-generation family glass business. The process is painstaking — and that doesn’t include shipping the glass halfway across the world to the Aviation Business Center, which celebrated the installation as part of its grand opening on November 3.

Looking back on the design process and how much inspiration he found in the Arizona landscape, Donlin seems both joyful—and relieved — with “from Land and from Air” and “Sun and Moon.”

“Yesterday I flew in and saw the Grand Canyon at sunset,” he says, “and thought it was spectacular.”