To celebrate her 40th birthday, Connie signed up for a glass making workshop. This single decision would not only teach her an exciting new skill, but would also propel her into her career as a glass artist.
Her journey prior to that life-changing event may have felt winding at times. But hindsight reveals the importance of each step along the way. She learned essential skills that she would need as an entrepreneurial artist.
Here’s Connie’s journey to becoming an artist:
As a kid, Connie spent hours drawing, creating needle crafts and sewing. She played the French Horn, piano and guitar. She recalls being drawn to stained glass windows in church and desired to learn how to craft them.
But first life took her in a different direction.
“Before being a glass artist, I was a clerical worker, courtroom clerk, church secretary, union organizer, youth director, I sold Avon and Mary Kay and I worked at 3 different coffee jobs at once! I feel all these experiences have provided a basis on which to build my business.”
But eventually the door to glass art opened, through a two week workshop through Community Ed. She learned enough basics to compel her to keep moving forward. She voraciously consumed opportunities to learn more. The owner of a stained glass shoppe in Robbinsdale taught her the copper foil or Tiffany method of stain glass. With that, she was on her way as a glass artist.
“I was on a mission to find people who were doing what I wanted to do and learn from them. I met a lot of people along the way who openly shared guidance and wisdom that enabled me to succeed. I took glass classes at all the studios to get different perspectives and settled on Joseph Ring of St Paul as my favorite mentor.
I was driven to continue to build my skills and expand my horizons from the faith and confidence of a loving and supportive group of friends who encouraged and challenged me every step of the way.”
Running your own business takes a lot of grit and dedication. Now that Connie knew this was the direction for her, here’s how she navigated building a hobby into an effective business model.
“When I got started in 1995, there wasn’t much guidance in how to turn this hobby I loved into a money-maker that would support me full-time.
I grabbed every opportunity I could to learn more about glass and about the business of being an artist. In the beginning, I had up to six part-time jobs while I fine-tuned my style and explored the best selling venues. In a few years, I was able to drop all the part-time jobs and survive on income from art shows, teaching and custom art glass.
I spent about five years helping build an arts organization in North Minneapolis and became their first Executive Director. When I left that position in 2009, I had an opportunity to open a gift shoppe in North Minneapolis. My business was a consignment model with me keeping a percent of sales to pay the bills. I soon added custom picture framing and monthly gallery shows to work with as many local artists as possible.
A new and much larger space was offered to me and I moved from the tiny 350 sq foot former barbershoppe to a former gas station on 44th & Penn. I started teaching glass fusing classes in my home because there wasn’t room in the shoppe. I formed a relationship with Groupon to offer deals on classes. I moved my classes from my home to this new space and soon expanded to over a dozen teachers with a variety of class offerings, monthly music events, flea market, farmers market and the gift shoppe with picture framing. We won lots of “Best of” contests and when I ended my relationship with Groupon, I had met over 10,000 people through my classes. Whew!
The shoppe was a huge success but I lost my space in August of 2019 when the building was sold. While I found temporary space to continue classes, I was unsuccessful in finding a space in North Mpls to keep my shoppe open. Then in March of 2020, COVID came and classes stopped, too.
While it was stressful and emotional for me, I was 65 and ready to make a big change so I took retirement, sold my home of 36 years and moved to Elk River to live with my daughter and grandkids. BIG CHANGES.
Since then, I’ve established space in the garage to make glass again and am doing shows and classes again. I dabble in antiques and collectibles with a booth in the local antique store and I love to garden!”
What Motivates you?
“When I ran the gift shoppe, I didn’t get to make glass as much as I liked. Now that I’m retired, I have re-opened my cache of ideas and brought them to life. I just hope I live long enough to get through them all! Tiffany stained glass is very tedious and time-consuming work which requires a fair amount of precision and skill. I learned patience doing stained glass, sometimes waiting months to see the project finished and in day light for the first time!
My reward is a happy client who might even tear up on seeing their project for the first time. Or send me photos and share how exciting it is to see the variations in the window based on the light coming through. They notice the little nuances I put into my work and that’s satisfying.”
In addition to paving her own path as an artist, Connie has had a powerful impact on emerging artists. I asked her, how do you hope your art or life as an artist impacts this world?
“I feel very lucky to have seen many rewards from my work; Through that giant pool of 10,000 Groupon glassers, a small group of them have become great glass artists in their own right and have gone even further in their work than I did. My consignment shoppe offered selling opportunities to a couple hundred first time artisan sellers. I coached several artists to become teachers and find more avenues of income from their work. I like enforcing with folks through my workshops that we all have that creative bone in our body but some of us just need a little help finding it. I love promoting and supporting other artisans and have built some solid, life-long friendships through all of this.”
Connie’s final encouragement to developing or brand-new artists:
“I took my first glass class at 40 and turned it into a brand new career for myself. My advice to anyone is to never give up. Always be curious and open-minded.”
Rumriver Art Center is excited to exhibit Connie’s glass artwork in the Jan Johansen Gallery from Saturday, June 3, 2023 – Saturday, June 24, 2023.
Meet Connie and learn more about her and her creative process:
- Show Opening on Saturday, June 3 from 2pm – 4pm
- Artist talk on Saturday, June 10 from 1pm – 4pm with a talk at 2pm