I have known Jim Bjornerud since high school days. We played football together for the Fosston Greyhounds; I was a defensive end and Jim played behind me as linebacker. If I missed a tackle, Jim was sure to back me up. Over these many years, I have stayed in touch with Jim and his wife, Gloria, who graduated at the top of her class and is one of the smartest persons I know.
On my way home from an October trip out East, I spent a couple of days with the Bjorneruds at their home in Appleton, Wisconsin. As we sat at the kitchen table for breakfast, I was mesmerized by the stained glass window hanging, “Autumn Joy” sedum blossoms illuminated by nature’s light. And to think, here I was, seated next to the man who crafted this work of art.
Later, Jim took me downstairs to his workshop and showed me the steps in creating a window hanging out of stained glass. He had drawn the image of a plant on a large piece of poster paper and labeled each piece with a number. Then he cut out individual pieces of the plant, blossoms, leaves, and stems. He placed each cut piece over a sheet of stained glass and carefully followed the edges with a special glass cutter. He used another tool to snap off the cut piece of glass.
Then he used a small grinder to smooth the edges, before he applied a copper foil tape that would help hold the lead to the fitting, as he soldered the piece in place. It reminded me of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Watching this process was enlightening on many levels, Jim’s creative mind at work, the control of his fingers as he cut the pieces, but most of all, it was the personal connection of a close friendship stretching over almost 70 years.
After graduating from high school, Jim and I received our bachelor’s degrees at Bemidji State University. From there our lives took different directions. Jim went on to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, leading to a 34-year teaching career as a professor at University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Jim’s focus there was on all things related to wood: Wood as a material and the multiple processes and procedures of its use in construction and industry, as well as wood identification, research and design.
With a background in wood, Jim has now turned to glass. He told me, “Nearly all the 20 or so pieces I’ve done are my own design, inspired by plants and flowers in our own garden landscape. So far I’ve designed and made panels depicting the variegated greens, blues and yellows of hosta leaves, iris, oriental poppies, and “Autumn Joy” sedum. I find that designing the piece is actually the most challenging and interesting part of the process.”
When asked how a stained glass piece differs from a painting, Jim told me a painting allows unlimited freedom of lines, details, colors, and shadings, while stained glass pieces face more constraints. Fewer lines are used to convey the essence of the thing depicted and depend instead on the availability of the color, texture, and light-transmitting qualities of the stained glass itself. He added, “But it is the interaction of light shining through stained glass that makes it come alive each day, which really distinguishes a panel from a painting.”
I asked my good friend to sum up his new venture. “For me, the most gratifying moment upon finishing a piece is when I hold it up to the light and see for the first time, the entire panel. I can see how all the different colors, types, and shapes of glass complement each other, and with the soldering lines, contribute to what I had envisioned for the design.”
Jim and I share memories of playing football. We were together, with an immediate goal, stop the runner of the opposing team. Our teaching careers have followed different roads, but we still share the same motivation, exploring the potential of the mind. Creativity is an attribute of our species that I respect more than anything in human nature. As teachers, parents, and grandparents, we can help our youngsters nurture that precious gift by giving them more opportunities to create, be it a song, a painting, a puppet show, or a pot made from clay.
Ozzie Tollefson lives near Phelps Mill and is the author of “Mr. Teacher.”