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Chicago Indie Artist Spotlight - Meet 4 Chicago Creatives: Dona Stretch

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 HALFSTACK MAGAZINE

Following your passions can be a scary thing, even more so when you are pursuing them on a professional basis. Being a working artist is thrilling, rewarding and can sometimes be daunting. The world puts so much pressure on people to be successful that they can sometimes forget to enjoy the process. Practicing your art, day in and day out, takes perseverance and strength. Artists are a special breed of people; they see the world from a different perspective and play a significant role in society. Art is a language of the emotions and speaks of what the people are feeling.

Today’s art has evolved tremendously from the art of the past, but it is still a way to communicate. Art in its many forms is a historical imprint of the world in a visual format and artists can be signifiers of the zeitgeist of the time. Artists can, and often do, create to make a statement that reveals the issues and complexities we face as a society. In its purest form, art speaks to us, moves us and touches us to our core. This issue, we wanted to share some Chicago artists creating on their own terms. We share their journeys in a Q & A format below for your enjoyment. Halfstackers meet: Juan Chavez, Dona Stretch, Vince Wolfe and Arlan Derussy.

Name: Dona A. Stretch
Type of Artist: Stain Glass / Photographer

1. Can you tell us more about yourself, your background and how you have established yourself as such a sought after artist in Chicago? 

My name is Dona Stretch born and raised in Chicago and grew up in a blue collar family. I didn’t know when I’ve never had the love, passion and interest in art. Upon completion of graduating from St. Benedicts High School located on Irving Park Road in Chicago, Illinois, I received a four year scholarship to attend the Art Institute of Chicago which I pursued. Studying and working with various mediums of art i.e. lithography, photography, textile, designing and sketching my love and compassion lies in Stain Glass and Photography. 

After attending the Art Institute of Chicago, life was about getting married and raising a family. I've been married for 38 years this June, two children 32 and 29 both married and four beautiful granddaughters. Despite having to raise a family, my eye never strayed away from my passion of art. Freelancing became a part of my life while raising our family. 

Now that my family is grown, I have been able to jump back full time into my passion which is the love and the creativity of my artistic talents of Art. The word “Art” is not a hobby... I call it my “Life”. My hobbies include being a season ticket holder to the Chicago Lyric Opera House, attending the Elgin Symphony, painting interior homes, golfing, reading, experiencing life that has not been touched and being involved with charitable organizations.

2. Can you explain what your creative process is like when it comes to your work? What kind of research goes into it, where do you find your inspiration?
The creativity process of my work comes from within. LET ME EXPLAIN - Where ever I go, my camera is always within reach. For it is that split second of time, that if you blink, that moment of capture is gone and is in the past. For it is that moment that you see with the naked eye to expunge on the feeling and create the emotion it brings you to elaborate your talent. 

My creativity comes from an inner passion of working with my hands, my mind and thought process of creating something that is beautiful within the emotion of who I am and hopefully have people enjoy what they see through their eyes.

One of the things that I enjoy when creating my art work is that I have the ability to let go and get lost in the moment and really pour myself into my work. I allow my mind to be completely blank with no outside distraction which is wonderful and rewarding. I’m living the moment of which the majority of people don’t know how to do because they are always thinking want they need to do tomorrow or the next day. I’m in the realm of my own awareness to put it bluntly.

3. What have been some of your most profound moments, projects you are most proud of as an artist?

As of January 2015, my stain glass art work, for the first time hangs in Decorators Gallery in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. I have done commissioned stain glass window panels for a brown stone home in the Gold Coast area of downtown Chicago.

Designing and making stain glass “Freedom Hearts” for the Wounded Warrior Foundation to assist in raising money and awareness is a project I am proud of. . The story behind the “Freedom Hearts” - In 2009 after my son graduated from college he decided to enlist into the Unites States Army. The hearts are a reminder of bringing my son back home and for all military men and women that served our country. This heart that I designed still hangs in our window as a reminder to say thank you for all those who have served. A total of 50 hearts have been designed and hang in other families homes throughout the United States. Donating my work for charitable opportunities is something I am always proud to do.

 4. Have there been any key people that have influenced your career, your art, your life?

As a young girl I can remember going over to my paternal grandparent’s house and admiring the pencil and charcoal drawing of my great grandfather, Ole Valde, that hung on my grandparent’s walls. I was mesmerized by the detailed work that was put into his pictures. One in particular was the gathering of the political historical people of “1776”. I was so intrigued by it, that in my sophomore year of high school I recreated the picture on an ink scratch artist board and won the Sears Scholastic Award that took first place. 

I can remember this as if it was yesterday. I ask my grandparents if I could borrow my great grandfathers charcoal picture off the wall to draw it and submit it for a drawing competition. Another person that influenced me in pursuing my artistic talent was my high school Art teacher by the name of: Sister Irene Beader. Without her guidance and her encouragement, I would have never received a four year scholarship to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and have the passion of art the way that I do.

5. Are there any artists that you look up to? If so, who and why?
I have always been intrigued with Georges Seurat paintings especially “Afternoon in the Park” on Island of La Grande. Seurat famous Pointillist Painting. It is a popular park on an island in the Seine River near Paris.

On my lunch breaks while attending the Art Institute of Chicago I would I would find myself visiting that picture that hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago Gallery. Seurat Post Impressionism / Pointillism was bench mark of an unusual technique of subject matter. In his picture Seurat shows many different people of different social classes participating in a majority of different activities. How one dot formed on a canvas can be created into other dots and therefore creates an optical theory of colors and movement.

For Seurat to have a technique so perfected and to create such a beautiful masterpiece took patience. Being an artist you need to have patience.

6. What do you consider innovation in your field, how can artists continue to push the boundaries?

Working with stain glass one needs to know what the trends are and what to produce for clients to come back and purchase your art work. Generations of different styles come and go and then return bigger and better. Artists need to go beyond their limits of creating different styles, different textures, and different methods and never put limitations on themselves or their ability to push boundaries.

7. Have you faced any struggles or obstacles as an artist throughout your career? If so, how have you overcome?

Yes, I have had to overcome obstacles in my life as being an artist, however I wouldn't label it as an obstacle. I would call it as “Having a Family”. My life had to be devoted to raising two children and putting my career on the back burner for a short time. Yes, I have overcome it. I always had my eye on my art talent but I could not devote myself 100%. To keep my hands in the fold I did some freelancing. When my children were at their teenage years that’s when I regained my passion of art in full swing mode. I went back into learning and took stain glass classes.

8. If you could go back and tell your 18 year old self one thing, or give yourself one bit of advice, what would it be?

Never lose sight of your passion that gives you the drive to feel free. Never give up on a passion that you hold so true into being yourself.

9. How has staying in Chicago affected your career as an artist, what would you say to those who believe that you can only find great success in places like NYC or LA?

All I can say is “Success” is where you make it! The only person that holds you back is yourself. You need to go to the source; the source doesn’t come to you. If you want your artwork to be seen and taken seriously you need to circulate yourself. You can spend a lot of money in Marketing and advertising; however the best Marketing tool is you. 

As an artist you need to get out into the community in meeting people. Go into galleries and see if new artist are being taken on. But the one most important tool is never give up on a passion of which that is you. Success is not a given thing, it is something that is nurtured and grows into potential. I have been working on being an artist almost all my life and I will always be working on it. Share the beauty you see with your eyes with others.

10.What kind of advice would you give young artists looking to turn their passion into a career that has meaning?

First I would say go for it! Don’t give up or give in if things don’t move as fast as you would want them to move, Rome wasn’t create in a day. Be patient with your results and embrace your achievement no matter how small they are.

Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet if you’re up against a challenge that takes you out of the box. But also make sure that your enjoy the ride.

11. Any upcoming shows, gallery showings, etc that you would like to share?

These are the events that I have on my calendar for stain glass / photography art exhibits;

May 2, 2015 - Presence Saint Joseph Hospital Fashion Derby which will be held at 
Stone Gate in Schaumberg, Illinois

May 3, 2015 - Elgin Symphony Fund Raiser
Anvil Club in West Dundee, Illinois

Coming in Fall 2015 Annual Presence Saint Joseph Hospital Auxiliary Gala (location undetermined)

October 10,11,12- 2015 
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin Pumpkin Festival

Wounded Warior Foundation Project in raising money for Wounded Warriors and their families. Stain Glass Freedom Hearts always available to purchase for $65.00. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Wounded Warrior Foundation. Purchases can be made at email: or website:

12. Where can we learn more about you and your art?

email: or website:

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