Gabrielle Nastuck says her one-woman exhibit at the Latrobe Art Center -- La Vita E Bella or Life Is Beautiful -- shows her progression as an artist.
But the exhibit shows much , as anyone can see who views the drawings of people who have meant a lot to her and photographs of still lifes that have fascinated her.
Ms. Nastuck, 27, called Gabby by family and friends, has a love of life that comes through in her art.
Her reliance on a wheelchair to get where she needs to be seems only to have steeled her resolve to be one of life's more accomplished travelers.
The dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty has osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly called brittle bone disease, a genetic condition that causes bones to break easily and that stunted her growth.
She might break her wrists if she braces for a car's sudden stop or break a leg if she trips.
"You have to be pretty much extra careful," Ms. Nastuck said of her condition, though she does say that as an O.I. victim gets older, the bones get stronger. The Latrobe resident hasn't let her condition stop her. She plays piano so well she won a best accompanist award in New York City when she traveled there with her high school chorus.
She earned a bachelor's degree in studio arts from Saint Vincent College, where she lived on campus.
Another visit to New York made the young artist realize how much such a city can spark creativity and how much she would enjoy living there. "I like a fast-paced life," Ms. Nastuck said.
She is the grant writer and Web master for the Latrobe Art Center and teaches an online art class for Westmoreland County Community College.
A network of friends and relatives rides her to work at the art center, and her service dog, Calli, provides the means to hit an elevator button or light switch when needed.
Otherwise, you pretty much have to get out of her way.
Even as a child, Ms. Nastuck made the most of her opportunities. "She never, ever complained," her mother, Rosemary Naccarato, of Vandergrift, said about her daughter's childhood.
Ms. Nastuck couldn't play outside as the other children did. So she drew pictures and listened to music.
When she was 7, her mother persuaded Allegheny Township artist and instructor Carol Salyers to take her on as a student.
Mrs. Salyers, who didn't teach young children, nevertheless agreed to the arrangement.
That changed her mind about teaching art to youngsters, Mrs. Salyers said.
During one summer, when a broken bone put Ms. Nastuck in a body cast, Mrs. Salyers went to the house to teach the girl. Her grandfather had made sure the child could continue her artwork. Orlando Naccarato designed a contraption, a suspended drawing board, that let Ms. Nastuck draw without sitting up, her mother said. The young artist also overcame obstacles at school, Ms. Naccarato said. Wheelchair accessibility was sometimes an issue in her elementary years and an even bigger problem in high school. An elevator eventually was built to make the Kiski Area Senior High School library accessible to her and future generations of disabled students.
For the first year or so of college, her grandfather took Ms. Nastuck to Saint Vincent College and Seton Hill University for art classes almost daily. Other friends and neighbors chipped in to drive her the more than 60-mile round trip.
Then Saint Vincent's administration designed a dorm room specifically for their talented undergraduate.
"They made everything accessible," Ms. Nastuck said.
They also made it possible for her to be on her own for the first time.
Meanwhile, she's enjoyed mounting her second exhibit, after a first show at a bank branch in a shopping plaza.
Her work includes watercolor, pastels, graphite and photography. Included are portraits of relatives and friends and the children of friends, some religious figures and whimsical Christmas-themed work.
Also in the exhibit are the paintings she used when the Frick Museum of Art and Historical Center commissioned her to design heirloom flower and vegetable seed packets. The packets were sold in the gift shop until last year.
Ms. Nastuck lives with a friend in her own handicapped-accessible house in Latrobe, where she has a small studio. Though she once had private students, she now spends more time on her own work.
Her business card has a drawing of an exotic-looking woman's eyes and the words, "Think-Dare-Dream-Believe."
Her mother looks concerned when discussing her daughter's independence, but she's pragmatic about it.
"She has her own mind," Ms. Naccarato said. "That's what we were aiming for."
The Latrobe Art Center is located at 819 Ligonier St., Latrobe. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The exhibit runs through March 26. For more information, call the center at 724-537-7011.
By Judy Laurinatis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Judy Laurinatis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1884.