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Artist uses everyday objects to create interactive artwork at Elmhurst Art Museum

ELMHURST – One man's junk is another man's treasure. Or rather, the items someone might abandon might become one woman's artwork.

That's the case for Donna Castellanos, an Elmhurst resident and artist whose collection of various reused items transformed into art currently reside at the Elmhurst Art Museum, 150 Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst.

Castellanos, a York Community High School graduate with a graphic design degree from the American Academy of Art, said she began shopping at thrift stores and garage sales to furnish her home and painting furniture after having children.

"It kinda just started growing from there," she said.

A friend of hers introduced her to estate sales, and within roughly the last 10 years, she began assembling artwork out of junk and picking up pieces that appealed to her without knowing right away what she would do with them.

Knowing the generation of people – such as World War II veterans – who were holding the estate sales, she wanted to preserve the items they had valued and hung onto.

"The pieces will call to me," she said, adding she is "always" collecting.

"Rescuer of Once Loved Things: The Art of Donna Castellanos" reimagines spaces within the museum as if they were rooms in a house, including a study, conservatory, music room, dressing room, playroom and work room, with connections to her personal history.

When people visit Castellanos' exhibit, they pass through "The Fiber Forest," which represents the women in her life, who worked in textiles and sewing. Incorporated into the scene are fake pine trees that primarily were created by members of the community, including friends and family. Exhibit visitors can take a piece of "bark," or fabric, from the trees and sew a design or their name onto it and then button it back onto the trees.

"I want people to gather and create together," she said.

The exhibit also includes other interactive components in which visitors can contribute to the artwork. For example, in the "Tell Me About It" community project, people can type pages to respond to one of dozens of themes presented by small statues and then place their stories or reactions in corresponding books.

Castellanos said she occasionally has peeked at the pages people have added. The responses have been emotional, she said, and the activity seems to be "therapeutic," which went beyond her expectations.

"The first weekend, I started crying," Castellanos said about her reaction to the responses.

She also has seen parents show their children how to use a typewriter.

Castellanos said the community has responded with positive feedback to the exhibit. Her former teachers at York, including Charles LaLiberte and John Nester, also have been very supportive, she added.

"I'm still in the clouds because it's been a really good experience," Castellanos said.


If you go

WHAT: "Rescuer of Once Loved Things: The Art of Donna Castellanos"

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, through May 6 (closed Monday)

WHERE: Elmhurst Art Museum, 150 Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst

COST: $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, free for students and children; free parking


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