She got the idea when she set out to study the craft and was told she'd need to go all the way to Italy to get a good lesson. Now she is operating what's thought to be the only school in the country dedicated to preserving the art.
It starts with tiny pieces of broken glass and in the right hands can become a magnificent work of art. The Chicago Mosaic School recently acquired leftover pieces from an installation in the famed cathedral basilica of Saint Louis. That church houses one of the largest collections of mosaics in the western hemisphere.
"There is a material called smalti. It's not made in the United States. It's mainly made in Italy," said Karen Ami, The Chicago Mosaic School founder. "We were able to acquire 13,000 pounds, hundreds and hundreds of colors. So our students will now be able to work with this material that a lot of the colors are not even manufactured anymore."
Ami fell in love with mosaics while a student at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was surprised to find she'd have to go to Europe to learn the proper technique and so a school was born.
"I brought artists in from all over the world to come here to Chicago to teach and that's how the school started and grew," she said.
The Chicago Mosaic School is now thought to be the only institution in the country dedicated to teaching and preserving the meticulous art. Nine years in existence, it now attracts teachers and students from all over the world. David Chidgey lives in Texas and comes to Chicago at least once a year to attend a workshop, even in January.
"Chicago Mosaic School is kind of unique," Chidgey said. "It is really specialized to develop mosaic artists. It has an in-house director of art. Just years and years of people with great experience and I just don't think you can get any better training."
The non-profit's goal is to make the art accessible to everyone, even if you're a beginner. Julie Reilly says she just needed a stress reliever.
"It's not a threatening 'oh you have to be super talented' but it's a nurturing space so you can feel comfortable hear and feel ok learning," Reilly said.
The Chicago Mosaic School also teaches courses as part of after school matters as a way for cps students to get exposure to the arts.