Among Gabrielle Nastuck's art collection inside her neatly kept home on Laveen Street in Latrobe, one of the framed works is particularly personal.
She commissioned Butler County artist Bill Perry to paint a watercolor portrait from a 1940s photograph of Nastuck's grandmother, Adelaide Naccarato, next to her grandfather, Orlando “Lundy” Naccarato.
Nastuck, 35, grew up in the same home as her mother's parents in Vandergrift, where many of her maternal relatives lived.
“We always called my grandparents' house ‘Grand Central Station' because if somebody wasn't coming in the front door, somebody was coming in the back door,” Nastuck said.
Now the director of Latrobe Art Center, Nastuck credits her mother, Rosemary Naccarato, and her grandparents with fostering her love for art.
Her grandfather, who passed away in 2008 at age 81, built Nastuck a special easel to sit on her bed as she was dealing with osteogenesis imperfecta, or OI — also known as brittle-bone disease.
“The art was my release and my way with dealing with a lot of things growing up,” she said, having taken private lessons for 10 years before majoring in studio art in St. Vincent College, where she graduated in 2001.
“I've had my share of breaks,” she said of the congenital genetic disorder that affects the way the body makes collagen, leading to weak bones. “You're laid up and you can't move. ... I could just sit there and color and draw and paint, and do what I needed to do, and that's what saved me from going crazy sometimes.”
Her mother, Rosemary Naccarato, said aunts, uncles and neighbors in Vandergrift were supportive and proud as Nastuck grew up trying everything from sixth-grade cheerleading to the high school musical.
Rosemary and her mother, 87, still live in the same house in Vandergrift.
“The house was very small, but there was so much love there,” she said. “You can't take that away from who Gabi is ... a part of them will always live in Gabi's heart.”
Nastuck uses a wheelchair to get around and had a service dog through high school and college to help navigate campus.
After graduation, she moved to a house in Latrobe, where she lived for five years with her college roommate Laurie Havrisko and her fiancé Ryan Golobish before the two got married and moved out.
Four years ago, she learned how to drive with an adaptive van outfitted with a mechanical lift and hand controls. “I was terrified of it, but I love it now,” she says.
She now lives on her own.
Nastuck said growing up with the support of her mother, grandparents and extended family helped teach her compassion and thoughtfulness that she has brought to her love for the community in Latrobe.
“You really never had that chance just to sit there and mope,” Nastuck said. “Everybody ... always kept up the momentum. I've brought that chaos to the center.”
The chaos is led by her distinct laughter, which resonates often in the building on Ligonier Street, even when Nastuck is out of sight, said Kathy Rafferty, vice president of the Latrobe Art Center board of directors.
“You can hear that cute little giggle,” Rafferty said. “She truly is the life of the center, she truly is. ... She has such a powerful personality.”
Nastuck can command a room, even when it's full of 21 children from ages 5 to 14 attending a kid's camp at the center, like it was last week.
Working with kids, she has to be straightforward about her condition.
“I'll just say, ‘Well, you know what, see your legs, my legs don't work as well as yours, so in order for me to get around better I use my wheels' and that's it. ‘I'm just like you; I'm no different.' The kids have been great,” she said.
Rafferty said under Nastuck's guidance, the center has become not just an art center, but a community center.
Lauren Condon, art center administrative assistant, said the enthusiastic director creates a positive environment that is addictive and helped her make the decision to work there after volunteering for two years.
As a board member of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, Nastuck has contributed to a new hub of activity in Latrobe, she said.
“We're a starting point of that revitalization, and that's all because of her,” Condon said. “It takes one hub to get people excited, and we are hoping we can be that hub.”
Nastuck jokes that she doesn't know how to say no and wants to take over the whole block of Ligonier Street, packing in more events and activities to bring Latrobe residents together.
“That's all I know,” Nastuck said. “I don't know relaxing until I hit the pillow.”
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.