A Legacy Etched in GlassJun 23, 2023 01:06PM ● By Carol Nigrelli
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
Walking through the door of the ivy-covered brick building nestled in Omaha’s Old Market, one can’t help but gawk in amazement at the huge, cavernous, cluttered space. How can such an industrial-looking expanse the size of half a football field and filled with design tables, reams of paper, and wooden shipping crates produce fragile and delicate works of stained-glass art?
Jenna Lambrecht knows. She knows every nook and cranny of the Lambrecht Glass Studio—the business her parents started in 1978. She knows how glass reacts to heat, light, paint, and a blast of sand. She knows what dalle-de-verre in epoxy means. She knows how color and design can reach people’s souls. After all, it’s her heritage.
“Mom and Dad met in college at Lincoln,” Jenna said, reflecting on the beginnings of the family business. “Mom took interior design, [while] dad was more on the business end, but he was also very creative.”
One day her mother took a stained-glass workshop and prophetically said to her then-boyfriend, “Mark, I think this is something you’re going to like.”
Mark and Kristi Lambrecht eventually settled in Omaha’s Dundee neighborhood and worked out of their home, displaying their glass creations at art fairs and restoring stained-glass windows in some of the wealthier homes.
As their business grew, so did their family. When Kristi gave birth to the first of three daughters, the couple realized, “you can’t have kids in the house around glass. So they built a garage behind the house. It had nothing to do with cars,” Jenna deadpanned.
While Mark assembled the glass in the main part of the garage, Kristi drew up the designs in the loft.
“It was our fun place,” Jenna recalled, whose earliest memories revolve around that garage. “There are pictures of us in boxes with peanuts. Our parents would play the Beatles and we danced on the [design] tables.”
“The girls were all raised in the studio in their baby seats on the bench,” Kristi Lambrecht added. “I kept them close. They all know how to make a window.”
Strong word-of-mouth about the couple’s honesty and craftsmanship kept the projects coming. Mark began working with architects and developers, many of whom had turned their attention from building houses to raising churches. Creating new stained-glass and restoring Omaha’s vast trove of neglected windows necessitated the move to a larger workspace. In 1993, when Jenna was 8, her parents moved the Lambrecht Glass Studio to 715 South 12th Street, near Leavenworth. The Old Market building became Jenna’s second home.
“I used to love peeling the resist tape off dad’s glass etchings,” Jenna said. “I always had the patience for the little jobs.”
Though all three girls are creative, it was Jenna, the middle child, who had the deep desire to watch, learn, and absorb everything her father did.
After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Jenna augmented her vast knowledge of art history and iconography by working with European glass masters, including multiple artists from Denmark. She always knew she’d work side-by-side with her parents.
“I would paint the flowers and foliage in the windows and Mom would do the figure work—all the faces and hands. Then Dad and I would work together, maybe laying out the large, etched pieces, or go to meetings with clients or architects,” noted Jenna, now age 38.
Included in the Lambrecht’s extensive portfolio: the clear glass etching of the Holy Family that adorns the Holy Family Shrine, visible from I-80 in Gretna; a contemporary, kaleidoscope window design at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Omaha; stained-glass windows at Morningstar Lutheran Church, Countryside Community Church on the Tri-Faith campus, Beth Israel Synagogue, and Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital; the textured glass railing at Immanuel Hospital, and the etched, ultra-clear starphire glass at Borsheims in Regency Shopping Center.
With Lambrecht creations inspiring awe throughout Nebraska and beyond, plus big projects in the hopper (even during COVID) the future appeared boundless. Then, the glass shattered.
Mark Lambrecht was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and died shortly afterward in early 2020. Jenna was pregnant with her first child when he passed away. With her father gone, and her mother reeling from the loss of her husband of 40 years, Jenna suddenly found herself responsible for much more than the artwork alone.
“I never thought it would be all on me,” she confessed quietly.
But her father had never failed her before, even as his health failed him.
“When Mark got sick, Jenna sat right next to him, and he taught her the deeper parts of the business for when she would take over,” Kristi said. “It was 18 months of learning, and when he couldn’t talk any more, she translated his sign language.”
Out of deep sadness emerged incredible joy. Baby Jude came into the world a few months after his grandfather died. True to family form, Jenna brought Jude to the studio, strapping him on her back so she could lean over a design table.
Jenna’s two talented and trusted full-time employees, Jimmy and Kenny, install Jenna’s designs and perform the “really dirty work” at the warehouse down the street. At home, her husband, Bellevue native Jeff Dennis, offers love and support. And Jenna’s mother has found peace in her daughter’s success, and her family’s ongoing legacy.
“I passed the baton, gave it to her, and off she went,” Kristi affirmed. “I’m really proud of her.”
For more information, visit lambrechtglass.com.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.