WEST BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) - The biggest dragonflies, spiders and butterflies in southeast Iowa won’t be found hovering over ponds, spinning webs in gardens or flittering about with the flowers. Though they are artificial, made of glass or metal, such huge insects can be located at Starlight Art Glass Studio in rural West Burlington.
Chuck and Sue Kershner are the creative minds and hands behind such insect creations, along with flowers and whatever a customer might request.
The fourth-generation farm, which dates back to 1941, has been transformed over the years. Sue (formerly a Fritz) is the third generation to live on the land just west of Southeastern Community College.
Once a chicken and dairy farm in the 1950s, the Kershners have taken their creative abilities and applied it to their recently built studio, which still has artistic touches left to add.
The Hawk Eye (https://bit.ly/2iBL6O0 ) reported an old dairy barn and silo were demolished in 2012 to make way for Starlight Art Glass Studio.
Chuck asked his brother Les how much time he had until retirement. When Les replied one week, Chuck said he’d have a new job after that.
“We are going to build this building you and me,” Chuck said. “I had a design concept of what I wanted to do.”
Construction of the studio began in 2012, and it was weather-tight after a year and a half of work, leaving plenty of time for the interior work.
“Now we are at the fun part - finishing touches,” Chuck said.
The interior of the studio displays the creative talents of the Kershners.
The bathroom displays Sue’s artistic touch with a nature scene on the walls, while a big rock or tree trunk might be placed under the basin.
Two huge artificial trees have yet to be completed in the entry way, which will go from the foundation up into the second story of an open ceililng.
Wood planks saved from the dairy barn grace the upper level of the walls. Chuck and Sue tag-teamed their creativeness on a pair of sister benches made of the same hedge tree. Chuck constructed the benches in the shape of boomerangs, while Sue inlaid glass flowers into the bench tops.
The Kershners seemed destined to have their creative talent merge down the line.
Both attended Burlington High School, Chuck graduating in 1973 and Sue in 1974. But it was in 4-H where their paths crossed.
“We were 4-H rivals,” Sue said.
She belonged to the Blue Bells 4-H club and he to the Lucky Clover 4-H club.
“My dad had like a hobby farm,” Chuck said, which was located halfway between Burlington and Sperry.
They entered the same Brown Swiss showmanship class at the Des Moines County Fair.
“I beat the great Fritz,” Chuck said.
It wasn’t until years later they went on their first date.
“I asked you to go for a motorcycle ride,” Chuck said.
Sue’s father questioned the date when Chuck pulled up to the house on his Harley-Davidson.
They wound p getting married in 1978.
Sue’s background included earning an associate’s degree in horticulture from Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. She would spend 10 years in the field, working in the greenhouse and nursery at Zaiser’s Florist, Greenhouse and Landscaping in Burlington and as a floral designer at Hy-Vee.
Chuck spent 10 years as a journeyman ironworker, before starting his career at Federal Mogul, which has reached 26 years. He is a tool grinder in the tool and die shop, helping make tools last longer at the spark plug plant.
Chuck always worked with metal and wood, while Sue’s interest in glass came later.
“If you could find something to put that much passion in it, we’d be millionaires,” Chuck told her.
Sue’s interest in glass began in the winter of 1999 to 2000 when she took a class from Pat Latty at Pat’s Studio in Burlington.
Sue came to class with a project in mind, as she already had 180 glass pieces prepared for a project. The artistic piece would don the front of the kitchen counter of the Kershners’ new home.
When Sue started making her glass creations, it was on a small bench located in the former milking parlor of the old barn.
Now, Sue has plenty of creative space with two large work tables in the new studio.
The couple’s creative process is always collaboration.
“Chuck does all the metal and wood work for me,” Sue said.
“One of us will come up with a concept,” Chuck said.
“Sometimes, he will come up with a frame,” Sue said. “He’s very good at structure.”
One of the unfinished projects in the studio is the side of a hedge tree, which has a couple holes for Sue to add her magic. She plans to have a piece of glass with an owl’s head appearing to peak out of one of the holes.
A lot of Sue’s work begins with a sketch, whether it is to create a new flower arrangement, insect or a design for a customer.
For flowers, most of her work is prepping the petals for the flowers. She will take pieces of glass of the same color and put them in a kiln to make the future petals buckle, fold or curl.
She estimates on a flower project, she may have spent 15 hours on the prep work and only three or four hours to solder the pieces to the intended project.
“I work glass much different than most people,” Sue said.
“We spend an insane amount on details,” Chuck said.
Insects became part of the Kershners’ repertoire when Chuck’s son, working out of state, spotted an ant sculpture made of various materials.
“Dad can build that,” Chuck’s son thought at the time.
Chuck didn’t want to duplicate it, but made his ants of metal with pencil-thick legs. His creation involved a mother ant followed by four antlings, with the one in the rear scratching his antenna with a leg.
“That’s how the bugs got started,” Chuck said.
Huge metal webs with accompanying big spiders can be seen in the couple’s yard by those driving by on 406th road.
All the creations in the yard are meant to stand up to whatever Iowa weather comes in the farm’s way, including an enormous dragon fly that has lasted seven or eight years.
“We’ve done sculptures, dragonflies and glass flowers for ponds and water gardens,” Sue said.
The creative process typically begins between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. for Sue in the studio. Chuck sometimes has to drag her out of there by 1 a.m.
“I just have to keep busy,” Sue said.
Chuck does his work in a different building.
“I’ll have two or three projects going at one time,” Chuck said, which Sue then shook her head. He amended, “Five or six or seven.”
Chuck considers his most difficult project, besides building the studio, to be the 26-foot steel bridge he constructed for Autumn Heights in Burlington.
“My most challenging was an eagle,” Sue said.
A Dubuque customer wanted a flying eagle made of many glass pieces for a round window located in a stairway.
She keeps track of all of her projects which came in handy. A Texas woman wanted the state of Texas made out of glass, and years later she wanted a duplicate, so Sue could refer to her notes.
“She’s always had a wonderful work ethic,” Chuck said of Sue.
Six or seven times a year, the Kershners take their artwork to shows in the Midwest.
“For me it’s reverse engineering,” Chuck said of his creative process. “I see it in my head and figure out how to do it.”
January through March is typically a down period for the studio, but will open by appointment. Starlight Art Glass Studio is open Saturdays throughout the year.
Starting April 1, the studio will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Today is the second day of their open house as the studio will be open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. It’s an opportunity for people to buy some late Christmas gifts.
“Even if the people don’t buy anything, they appreciate what we have,” Chuck said.
“The pieces we make are our legacies,” Sue said.
“They are something I would want to be in my home,” Chuck added.
Information from: The Hawk Eye, https://www.thehawkeye.com
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