OELWEIN – A little DNA gets left behind on every CJMS project.
It’s inevitable, really, because the occasional bleeding finger, nick or cut is the price paid by artists whose canvas is stained glass. CJMS is Connie Kerns, Jake Blitsch, Marty Kajewski and Larry Stohr, and they are responsible for numerous art glass projects in Oelwein and surrounding communities.
Kerns was the catalyst for the first project — a 2007 community collaboration to create and install stained glass panels in the lobby at the Williams Center, Oelwein’s performing arts center.
“She thought something was missing,” recalls Blitsch. “It had everything but stained glass windows, so she put the word out. About 22 people showed up. Some people had a little experience working with stained glass, a few had a lot and some had none, but everyone was enthusiastic.”
Now light streams through elegant stained glass transoms above the center’s large windows depicting such performing arts as music and theater arts.
Although the number of participants ebbs and flows, CJMS is the core group behind decorative windows at Oelwein’s renovated 1920s dance hall, the Coliseum, as well as the Knights of Columbus building addition and at the historic Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Fairbank.
Kerns, a retired nurse, has been working with stained glass for 20 years and Blitsch for 35 years. Kajewski had never done stained glass until she volunteered and found herself hooked. Stohr, who builds the wood frames, has been involved for about five years.
“We just enjoy working together, and I like seeing the finished product,” says Kajewski.
Kerns agrees, noting that “Jake is the one who’s always coming up with ideas for projects.” He credits the other two for the designs and color combinations.
All of their projects are labors of love, Kerns says. They never ask for payment, Blitsch points out, although donations are accepted to cover the cost of glass and supplies for the next project.
Most of their work takes place in Kerns’ well-lit basement. A large work area is devoted to manual and power tools for cutting glass, along with soldering irons, stacks of colorful glass, spools of copper foil and lead and work stations.
Every pattern they’ve designed and built is displayed with pride in the hallway. Among the most striking is a bank of Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired windows and Iowa-themed panels created for the Oelwein Public Library.
“Visually, it has far exceeded what I ever could have dreamed. We love it,” says Susan Macken, library director.
In a serendipitous turn of events, CJMS purchased leftover glass from John Larsen’s project at the Park Inn Hotel in Mason City. It is the last remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Clear Lake artisan was commissioned to restore original stained glass windows in the $20 million undertaking.
“So we used the same glass in our project, and we had some leftovers that we used to make 12 individual windows that Connie and Marty designed, and we sold as a fundraiser for Friends of the Library,” says Blitsch.
In 2014, the group made and sold stained glass windows from barn quilt patterns, donating more than $2,300 to Fayette County Tourism.
When RAGBRAI riders passed through Oelwein that same year, CJMS made 100 Iowa-shaped sun catchers to sell as a fundraiser for Oelwein’s RAGBRAI committee. The sun catchers — no two were alike — proved so popular that volunteers were recruited to help churn out 300 keepsakes. The effort raised nearly $7,000.
Last fall, CJMS created and installed “Charlotte’s Web”-themed windows at the Central Springs School library in Nora Springs. A dedication is planned this spring.
Currently the artisans are hard at work on an art glass window for a Corydon hotel renovation. Kajewski’s great-grandfather built the hotel in the 1890s, and it still bears his name.