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Sinsinawa promotes education, entertainment
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Glass artist Barb McKinlay of Dubuque demonstrates techniques to make a glass tray and magnets at a class recently taught at Sinsinawa Mound. - photo by Dena Harris

SINSINAWA—From singing groups to instructional courses, Sinsinawa Mound, the motherhouse for the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, provides a full gamut of options for participation from the general public.

Sinsinawa Mound offers an ideal atmosphere for personal reflection, group retreats, corporate focusing, or organizational gatherings within the Sinsinawa Mound Center grounds, located on 450 wooded acres. The facilities include a 750-seat auditorium, meeting rooms, library, chapel, book and gift gallery, art gallery, outdoor and indoor labyrinths and walking trails. The grounds also feature orchards, vineyards, fields and gardens.

There are approximately 150 sisters who live at the facility and approximately 150 employees at Sinsinawa Mound. There are more than 30,000 visitors throughout the year.

Sinsinawa Mound is committed to study, education, spirituality and the arts. Through programing and retreats, persons from many spiritual traditions are invited to experiences of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic awakening.

“We take into consideration what’s happening in the world, human interest, and industry trends” when planning for upcoming events,” Sheila Heim, director of outreach at Sinsinawa Mound, said. “We also invite suggestions from guests and our sisters.”

Sinsinawa Mound holds over 300 events annually. Heim said facilitators, much like their guests, come from a wide range of locations.

“We do try to utilize local talent as that keeps the cost down, but we do contract with national talent as needed,” Heim said.
One regular facilitator has been Barb McKinlay of Dubuque, a glass artist who loves to share her artistic passion with others. In August she held a workshop for a small group to create decorative glass trays and magnets. She will return this fall with Christmas ornament workshops in both October and November.

McKinlay has worked for glass companies such as Kosta Boda, Simon Pearce, and other china and giftware companies like Haviland and Jay Stongwater.

After 25 years of helping to promote the work of others, Barb made a conscious plan to explore a new life as a glass artist and designer. She built a studio in her own home and taught herself how to make art glass. Barb’s designs are now incorporated into contemporary, fun, useful tableware, home décor, glass paintings and mobiles.

McKinlay said she got into teaching her craft because of the positivity that came from it.

“People are always happy at the end of the class,” McKinlay said. “It’s very uplifting.”

In her workshops, she teaches participants the design techniques for a successful artistic piece and assists with creative inspiration. She provides all of the materials needed, from the protective gloves and eyewear to the glass pieces used.

The class learns about how high the glass layers can be piled to get a certain effect, depending on the piece. Each piece of glass for a project is assembled and secured using hairspray to ensure a non-toxic end result.

The designs in the class can be fired to be flat or with relief, meaning they would have the texture of the glass pieces remain instead of fused together to be a flat surface.

McKinlay has a no-waste art studio. Glass pieces discarded from one project are resized for future use. She uses the larger clippings for magnets and ornaments, smaller bits are decorations and the tiny ones are crushed to what she called frit, the equivalent of a large glitter made of glass.

She insists on using all glass products made in the United States.

Once the class is over, McKinlay’s work is only half-done. She takes the pieces to her studio in Dubuque, with the help of her husband, and fires them in her kiln. The pieces are in the kiln for eight to 10 hours per step, including the molding if the edges need to be ruffled or formed into a bowl. The finished product is returned to Sinsinawa Mound within two weeks after the class.

McKinlay stresses that no experience is necessary for her classes. Just bring a willingness to learn.

Sinsinawa Mound is located on Co. Z, just off Hwy. 11 near Hazel Green. For more information about upcoming events, contact Sinsinawa Mound at (608) 748-4411 or McKinlay can be reached at or on Facebook by searching for “Barb McKinlay Art Glass.”