After retiring from teaching, Julee and Charlie welcomed their daughter, Becky, into the world. As an adult, Becky would say her mother used her as a model for some of her windows, including the baby in the nativity scene installed at Southview Christian. As Becky grew, Julee continued to experiment with a number of mediums, looking for her perfect vehicle for artistic expression. She tried pottery, with its high-failure rate; woodcutting, which was too hard on her hands; weaving, and its maddening amount of thread; jewelry; and even macramé. But in 1977, when she was asked to teach a course in stained glass art at the YWCA, she finally found her niche. The YWCA mini-course was designed for mothers who were waiting for their children to finish swimming lessons. “Back then,” Julee said, “nobody was doing stained glass, and I had never done it. But I thought, ‘Well, I’m an art teacher—I can teach any kind of art.’” She went to a craft supply house, and the owner gave her a 20-minute crash course on stained glass to help her prepare for her assignment.
After that first stained glass teaching experience, Julee said, “I think I learned more from my students than I taught them.” In learning how to make stained glass, she had an artistic epiphany. “I can make a nice pot in about 12 hours,” she said, “and I’m a so-so weaver. But when the light came through the stained glass, it said to me, ‘You don’t have to go any further.’ The medium grabbed my heart—it is what I was meant to do.”
Her first stained glass creation was a ladybug, which hung on the wall in her basement art studio. “It’s to keep me humble,” she said at the time. Her first commission came from Ben Simon’s department store in Lincoln where her father worked as a designer. She provided abstract panels and a stained glass unicorn and red flowers. Thirty-five years later, Julee would tell a group of first graders at Hill Elementary, “When I was young, I drew a picture of a horse’s head and promised myself it would be the first thing I drew when I became a famous artist. So when I grew up and began making stained glass windows for a living, my first [paid commission] one was of a unicorn.” Aside from the department store, in the beginning of her journey with stained glass, most of Julee’s work was displayed in private homes. But a portrait of Abby Cat, a family pet, hung in a two-week exhibit at the Kemper Gallery of the Kansas City Art Institute. The stained glass portraits of Abby earned Julee the nickname, “Cat Lady” among her artist friends.