Pilot Mound artist Karl Unnasch prepares a vintage stained glass window for restoration. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Pilot Mound artist Karl Unnasch prepares a vintage stained glass window for restoration. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
The problem and solution are the familiarity.

However, Karl Unnasch's kaleidoscopic view sees the playful order.

"Art is all problem-solving. Having a creative mind helps solve problems and gets us to be a less fearful society. Instead of seeing something as foreign, we start seeing something as vital," Unnasch said.

He also pointed out that art influences everything from the color of a truck to the food packages at the local store.

"It's all art design and it's all the result of problem-solving," added the Pilot Mound artist.

Unnasch earned art degrees at Winona State University and the University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth and his work has been exhibited as far as Europe and has been acclaimed in publications as esteemed as The New York Times and Art in London Magazine.

He continued, "It's all about what happens in the viewer's realm, the audience's realm, and what happens when they start seeing things in a certain order and being aware of the nostalgia and different human tendencies that play into it...tendencies toward beauty, being somber, playful...."

From his artist's haven in the old Pilot Mound General Store, Unnasch now works as a stained glass window restorer and hobbyist artist. As a hobbyist, he defines his work as an intentional convergence of the familiar and the unexpected, which manifests itself in all his efforts, from the stained glass he restores and also creates from original designs to his cast metal, collage and found object pieces.

His career in stained glass began in studios in Winona, but he soon found that he had ideas that needed to be expressed beyond the obligations of filling orders for the companies' customers.

Stained glass work has now become his "bread and butter," Unnasch said, offering him steady employment, but he has ventured far outside its disciplines to explore various art media.

"I think I got into stained glass just because it's an art form anybody can do, but there are very few that can be masterful at it, as it demands a range of abilities," he said. "Stained glass has been a good stepping point to other things, has taught me patience because you can't muscle it around...you've got to do it at the pace it wants to be done."

Unnasch said his found object collages have the same situation and structure, and it has been pretty consistent throughout everything.

"Drawing is starting to have more presence in things even though I haven't had much time to explore it and I've been adding found objects, melted glass, cast metals, slump glass to my works...I want to make things interesting and fun," he added.

Unnasch said he finds inspiration in things that offer him fulfillment, including things that he feels have a high-value content, things that make him happier and make life easier to bear. He also finds ideas through good memories and things that are good for others.

"I have a tendency to be attracted to things that aid in the magical process of creating and having people view my work," he elaborated.

Unnasch's works can be found in educational facilities, medical wings, theater lobbies and public gathering spaces - from areas as rural as the cornfields of the Heartland to areas as urban as the threshold of our nation's capital.

Locally, his stained glass, sculpture, cast metal and collage work is installed at the Rochester Community and Technical College's medical sciences building, John Marshall High School in Rochester, at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro and in downtown Lanesboro, in its street signs pointing toward attractions.

His stained glass has been placed in tractors and combines in Reedsburg, Wis., and Minneapolis, and most recently, he constructed a Christmas tree entitled "Playtime Jubilee" for the city of Silver Spring in Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C., composing it entirely of plastic children's toys - sleds, sandboxes, xylophones, swimming pools, shopping carts, bicycle helmets, balls, sand pails, riding toys and more. It was a work commissioned by Silver Springs to stand in the city's Fountain Plaza for the second annual "Reimagining the Holidays" celebration.

The over-35-foot-tall kaleidoscopic tree, at least 16 feet in diameter, was lit on Nov. 16, and will remain there until early January.

A review on his website stated, "In the sunshine, 'Playtime Jubilee' is a fun and eclectic burst of lovably gaudy color and bold form, but at night, it becomes a glowing mass of rich hues as backlighting illuminates the piece from within, transforming the cyclonic mass of plastic toy panels into a stunningly kaleidoscopic array reminiscent of stained glass."

Unnasch related that he received a call to stained glass artists in his email and was intrigued by the possibilities of using sleds because they are "fairly flat like a pinecone blade." He applied for the opportunity to build the tree and was chosen, which meant he had to start gathering the toys in mid-September.

He rented a U-Haul and trucked everything to Maryland, where he and a team of assistants assembled the tree as carefully as possible on a metal framework so that it would survive the elements but also so that the toys could be distributed to disadvantaged families with small children after the holidays through A Wider Circle, a Montgomery County, Md., organization.

"I wanted to really pay it forward," said Unnasch, adding that once it was done and standing, he actually breathed a sigh of relief and felt a sense of accomplishment.

"It was a very positive experience. I had my head down and so busy working on something that I've crafted...the magic comes when someone appreciates it," he said. "That's where the magic comes for the maker. It's not in the end result, but in seeing others appreciate it. It was a treat seeing others experience that magic. It made it seem more real than it was to me, helped bring it home. It's been one of the big projects - I've had some other fulfilling work in the past that's close to this, but this is some of the best."

Unnasch said he doesn't get to create large works such as "Playtime Jubilee" as often as he'd like, but admitted that's part of being a working artist.

"It's where I put enough of myself into the pieces that I'm able to put my name on them and be willing to back them," he added. "The work I'm doing most of the time has the hand of the maker in them, like when I re-lead a window, I re-lead it in a fashion that I'm used to doing. And in the things I do, it's not just one simple approach - it's a team effort of nuances. The initial jazz of doing anything comes from an idea, how to innovate and do the project justice, build familiarity and make it approachable...like 'Wouldn't it be cool if...?'"

Unnasch concluded, "I do try to approach this like a job, but it is certainly magical when I do the extra work, the problem-solving, do the hard part and the reward is surviving the point where things go awry...solving those problems."

For more information on Karl Unnasch and his artwork, one may log onto his website at www.karlunnasch.com.