Already an accomplished stained glass artist, when Jill Wicke began teaching in 1987, her enthusiasm grew even more. Thirty years later, showing students how to create functional pieces continues to enrich her life.
Jill instructs several levels of classes at both the Katy Cavins Center, through the O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department, and at the Scott Air Force Base Skills Development Center.
When Jill approached Scott AFB staffers about teaching, they immediately and enthusiastically welcomed her to the arts and crafts center.
“I love teaching,” she said. “When you teach, the students are nervous, worried about cuts and breaking the glass, but they develop techniques, and get so excited. That gets you excited. I love the feeling of helping them find the talent in themselves.”
A beginning class introduces students to the lead came method, the traditional first step. Then, they can gain more experience in a copper foil class, which is the technique popularized by L.C. Tiffany at the turn of the century. And in the final class, students learn how to make a small panel lampshade in the copper foil method, which requires experience in cutting and fitting glass. She also teaches a course on how to make a garden stepping stone, which features a cut-glass design that is then poured over with concrete.
This year, Jill is offering classes year-round:
▪ Stained Glass-Copper Foil Class runs from 7 to 9 p.m., and starts May 1, finishing June 5.
▪ The Stained Glass-Panel Lampshade Class will run June 19 through Aug. 14. Classes are for ages 16 and up only.
O’Fallon Recreation Supervisor Patrick Poore-Christiansen wanted to see if offering additional dates would work out, she said. Poore-Christiansen said Wicke is known for being well-prepared, patient and encouraging and he is very pleased with her as an instructor.
“Jill provides a great program for the city. It’s a unique style of art that is not found everywhere. Jill’s expertise in this art form leads to wonderful classes, and for participants to learn and hone their craft in,” he said. “She has been a great asset to our lineup for programs, and provides great classes for the adults. Her skill and ability to teach has made for very popular, great programs over the last few years.”
Like many military wives, Jill first came to O’Fallon with her husband Bob when he was stationed at Scott Air Force Base in 1979. Their son, Scott, attended kindergarten here, then they moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where she first began teaching. After an assignment in Japan, they returned to O’Fallon in 1994, and Bob retired here.
Both are originally from the Chicago area — she’s from Highland Park, he’s from Huntley. The metro-east appealed to them because this was the closest to their hometowns, Jill said. And yes, they are true-blue Cubs fans — but she also roots for the Cardinals.
Stained glass had always fascinated Jill, who majored in interior design at Bradley University in Peoria, where she met her husband. After they married and were stationed in California, she finished school, and worked for Sears, designing custom window treatments.
She has worked locally as an interior designer for Kloss Furniture in Highland and in the home décor department at Home Depot.
The work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright is what sparked her interest. He was known for more than 4,000 leaded glass designs in windows and doors in over 150 homes that he designed.
“In Chicago, we had the Frank Lloyd Wright house (his studio in Oak Park), and stained glass was prominent. It was so beautiful. Stained glass has such a great history — so much through the years. I wanted to try my hand at it,” she said.
But with a busy décor career, she had put her dream on hold.
“There was never any time,” she said.
Then, the opportunity presented itself.
“After I had my son and quit working, I thought, ‘Now is the time.’ I loved it. I went crazy with it,” she said.
Creating something with glass became a passion.
“I liked the feeling, always liked working with my hands, and making something creative. It is so enjoyable to look at,” she said.
A cottage industry was born.
“I started making patterns. Then I started selling some things at craft fairs. People started asking me to make things,” she said.
Jill established a custom design business, Stained Glass with Class, which encompasses kaleidoscopes, boxes, small panels, cabinet doors, windows and doors.
“It just kind of built, and then the years go by,” she said, 37 years after her first attempt. Some of her custom pieces are currently for sale at Tiadaghton House in Lebanon, which features local artists.
She worked on three abstract designs for church windows, drawing her own patterns for architect Gary Karasek of Belleville. At First United Methodist Church in O’Fallon she designed four panels within a grid for five-foot skylights. At Union Methodist Church in Belleville, she designed a window in the chapel. And at Cornerstone Christian Church, she created several small windows.
She regularly attends stained glass conventions and takes advanced classes to further her own skills and keep current on trends.
One of her new adventures is teaching at The Clearing, a folk art school, in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, located in Door County. She was invited to teach three years ago for a residential week-long retreat. This year’s class is scheduled Aug. 20-26.
“It’s so much fun, so relaxing. It’s right on Green Bay and Lake Michigan. There are no cell phones, no internet. You walk in the woods to your class. You eat wonderful food, and you can sit around a campfire at night. It’s an adult camp with just the good stuff,” she said, smiling broadly. “You don’t have to cook your own food over a fire. It’s just so pretty.”
Besides her teaching and commercial work, she delights in spending time with family. Her father, Bill, lives close by in a senior living villa.
She lights up talking about her six grandchildren — four girls and two boys. She can often be found attending sports meets, school functions and babysitting in Fenton, Missouri, where they live.
Her son Scott and his wife, Ria, became active in their church’s foster program, and adopted a brother and sister, adding to their four children.
Throughout her home, Jill has added beauty and warmth with stained glass, from a monogrammed “W” on a patio door, to a spectacular three-paneled set of clear-glass designed doors. In an upstairs bathroom, calla lilies are in bloom in a window. Table and floor lamps feature her custom patterns.
“Leaving something behind is a good feeling. You can give stained glass to somebody else, and it always looks nice,” she said.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A. Treat others as you would want to be treated.
Q: Whom do you most admire?
A. My son and daughter-in-law, for taking on two adopted children to raise with their four biological children.
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
A. I don’t know.
Q: What is the last book that you read?
A. “Still Life with Bread Crumbs” by Anna Quindlen.
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A. Go to the beach, boating, and hanging out with the grandkids.
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A. Kind of messy, organized chaos.
Q: What did you want to do careerwise when you were growing up?
A. I don’t remember having one thing picked out. I just knew that I wanted to go to college.
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
Q: What irritates you most?
A. People being early — more than 10 minutes — for something. It’s as rude as being late and such a waste of time.
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A. Its creativity and flexibility.
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
A. The same things, with more charity work added.
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
A. I have no idea.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
A. My family and friends.
Glass with Class
Owner: Jill Wicke
About the business: Custom design stained glass, including kaleidoscopes, boxes, small panels, cabinet doors, windows and doors