By Kendra Hartsell
Karen Liubakka, owner of the Art Emporium located in downtown Monticello, says her business is the best-kept secret in town.
While the store has only been open for less than a year, it has slowly become a gathering place for local artists.
Her love of glass started when she and her husband, Jim, bought their first home in Minneapolis over 30 years ago. The home had a huge stained glass window in it, which Karen absolutely loved.
“Glass never goes away,” she said. “I can just sit and look at old church windows. Even glass over 100 years old is still beautiful.”
After moving to a farm in northern Minnesota in 1980, the couple put together their first stained glass project, a lamp of 100 pieces. It now hangs in their store.
It was that first project that led Karen to start taking Community Education classes in stained glass. She also started buying her own tools and materials, and eventually she was teaching her own glass classes.
After teaching for several
years, Karen decided to open her own shop in Grand Rapids, Minn.
In 2001, Jim was able to retire from his original job and help his wife open their store called “Stained Glass With Class.” There they sold stained glass projects and gifts. In 2009 they sold their store and moved their business to their home workshop. Jim continued to work on custom jobs until they decided to start looking for a building to open a new store in Monticello. They chose this area to be closer to their four children and four grandchildren.
In 2010, they found the space that they currently occupy, and started renting it in October 2011. The area was larger than what they were looking for, so they decided to take half of the space for their stained glass materials, and open the other half to local artists.
The Art Emporium first opened in February 2012. The Grand Opening was then held in May 2012. When they first opened their doors they had three to four artists in the shop. Now there are 14 to 15 artists who sell their work in the space. The store offers various arts including pottery, quilting, woodworking, painting, jewelry and photography. Local artists contribute 90 percent of the art.
Jim and Karen spend about 75 percent of their time teaching classes right in their store.
“We love teaching the most. Everyone goes at an individual pace, so we just go step by step. It makes it much easier and more comprehendible for the students,” says Karen. “We help walk you through from idea to frame,” says Karen.
People interested in getting a stained glass window for their own home have the option of either making it themselves or having Jim make it for them.
“Most people like to make it themselves because then they can show people and say ‘I made that’,” Karen said.
They use two different types of glass in their classes. The first is a basic manufactured stained glass, which is made in Seattle, Wash. They also use a fused glass, which fires nicely in the kiln. The fused glass comes from Kokomo, Ind.
When people want to start a glass project, the only things they need are an idea and a size. Jim and Karen take it from there.
“People come in on their lunch breaks or after work or just whenever they have an hour or two to work on their glass,” Karen said. “We are not a quiet art gallery, we are an open workshop. People come in here and have fun.”
Jim and Karen charge per project, which includes the use of their tools and scrap glass. The total cost varies in price because different types of glass cost different amounts.
The Liubakkas have enjoyed being in the Monticello area thus far. They love teaching students of all ages everything they know about glass and working with glass. They also like to supply the area with stained glass tools and materials so that people do not have to travel to get them.
“We love it here in Monticello. We love the river and everyone that comes in has been so nice,” Karen said.
The Art Emporium is located across from the Monticello Community Center on Walnut Street. Their hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and evenings and Sundays by appointment. The Art Emporium can also be found online at www.artemporium534.com.