Tanner Turned Glass Artist

Modern communications is not all it’s cracked up to be.   Over a bad cellphone line the name of the man who made the windows of the Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral in Bloemfontein sounded like Leonardus Albertus. ”It is in fact Lambertus Emundus (Leo) Monsma.,” writes his son-in-law, Tony Nell. “ and he was responsible for fixing stained glass windows in some churches in the Karoo.”

“Leo was born in Holland on July 5 1909. On October 10. 1934 he married Cornelia Helena Francina Hamers. They had eight children – four sons:  Wiebe,  Johannes (Han), Innocentius (Inno), and Alfonsus (Fons), and four daughters Annette (Netty), Lydwina (Lydia), Veronica (Ronnie) and Odelia (Diel), the youngest, who was born in South Africa.”

Leo, a leather tanner by trade ran his own business in Holland. During World War II he was active in the Dutch Resistance Movement. His tannery was damaged in a bombing raid. In 1948 Leo then decided to move to South Africa to create a new life for his family in a country not ravaged by war. He arrived in February, his family followed in October. In South Africa, Leo did not follow his trade as a tanner, but held various posts in companies such as General Chemicals, where he became acquainted with liquid latex.

“This became the core of his stained glass business. As a hobby, he started making glass mosaic items, such as tabletops, using various colours of broken glass. They were an instant success. He then experimented with different colours and pigments. More artistic pieces such as lampshades and furniture followed.  Before long Leo had developed his own colours and pigments, methods of mixing these with the latex and effectively applying the mix to glass sheets. He patented his methods and Glasparents was born.”

Before long he was accepting commissions for huge stained glass projects in Bloemfontein and throughout South Africa. He also fixed up windows for many small churches across the Karoo.

“In 1962 Leo and Helena, returned to Amstelveen, in Holland, with their three youngest children.  He continued doing stained glass work in Holland until he died on September 25, 1980,” said Tony.

2 responses to “Tanner Turned Glass Artist”

  1. Hi Rose ,
    Interesting piece about Leo .
    I am also an stained glass artist and you can have a look on my website at http://www.stained-glass.co.za .
    I travel across the country to do restorations and it is inspiring to see the different work and techniques of the different artists . Unfortunately not a lot of local talent , but I am trying my best to even out the score .

    I used to follow your blog but have been so busy the past few months with designing windows for a cathedral in Angola that I only just now started to catch up on my reading .

    Have a wonderful spirited Easter .

    Daniel de Klerk
    D R Art Glass Studio

  2. hi Rose,
    I do believe that the Leo Monsma or perhaps or people he trained, also made a glass work based on the deigns of Dirk Meerkotter, for the Lindenpark NG church in Johannesburg. In about 1963/1964.

    I say this because my mom referred in a writeup that Dirk Meerkotter visited the Monsma’s regularly while they were fabricating the windows.

    It would be amazing if there is some remnant of the technology and history around.

    The church will be razed within 2021 and the remaining windows will be lost.

    Any connection to the Monsma’s will be appreciated.

    Best Regards

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