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Expressive exhibit: Former Natrona Heights resident/artist returns home to be featured in solo show

| Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Bernadette Wladyka
Sedona by Bernadette Wladyka
Bernadette Wladyka
Bernadette Wladyka's work titled Stones Suspended 17 is a mixed media collage, acrylic, stones, watercolor, collage.
Rebecca Andrew
Bernadette Wladyka at her exhibit at Saxonburg Artists Cooperative
Bernadette Wladyka
Red Pepper by Bernadette Wladyka
Bernadette Wladyka
Bernadette Wladyka's Raven
Bernadette Wladyka
Fence in Winter by Bernadette Wladyka
Bernadette Wladyka
Cardinal by Bernadette Wladyka

Who says you can't come home?

Former Natrona Heights resident Bernadette Wladyka recently visited from Leesburg, Va., her home the last 20 years, as the featured artist at The Gallery in Saxonburg.

Presented by The Saxonburg Area Artists Cooperative, her one-woman exhibit by Bernadette Wladyka runs through Nov. 2 featuring original works in a variety of mediums.

“My wife found her through Facebook,” says Sam Andrew, Saxonburg Artist's Cooperative founder and co-director,” Bernadette had been away for a long time, and my wife was a classmate of hers at Highlands High School. She saw her work on Facebook and told me how wonderful her artwork was.”

“It took us about six months to convince her to come back to her hometown area for a one-woman showing of her work, and another six months to prepare for the show.”

Andrew was enthusiastic about hosting the exhibit and praises Wladyka's artistic style. He taught art at Highlands High School for 38 years, and Wladyka was his student for two years.

“Yes, Sam Andrew was my art teacher,” Wladyka says, “He was a great teacher and encouraged my interests and suggested I submit my prints for a summer art program in Philadelphia.”

“His encouragement motivated me to continue the creative process called art. This sustained me through high school, and I graduated Highlands in 1976.”

Wladyka grew up on 10th Avenue in Natrona Heights, the youngest of four daughters of the late John and Cecilia Wladyka, whom she called hardworking parents of Polish ancestry. She has fond memories of art contests with her sisters. “My sister Tina and I would have drawing competitions, we were all a competitive bunch, and I like to think she let me win most of the time.” Wladyka says.

Justine “Tina” Auffenorde, of Romeo, Mich., remembers those contests. “Bernadette always won those fun art contests! I thought I could have won a few times.” Auffenorde attended her sister's art show at The Gallery and said she “wouldn't have missed it for anything.”

“I love to “steal” her art pieces when I visit her in Virginia,” Auffenorde says, “I have many pieces and so do my three children. I have seen my sister evolve as an artist over the years. I love her collages and dramatic colors. I can't wait to see what the next few years bring for her.”

Wladyka earned a degree in art education from Kutztown University in 1981 and took an art teaching job in Virginia, expecting to move back to Pittsburgh in a couple years. Wladyka taught for less than a year deciding that “teaching was not my forte.” Then she fell in love.

She has been married to fellow artist Skip Freidhof, who attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, for 26 years. They reside in Leesburg, Va., where Wladyka's art has been featured in numerous galleries.

She took a job as a computer graphics artist in the early '80s when the field was booming. She currently works as a knowledge manager for The Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine.

On weekends, Wladyka focuses on her art. “Some Mondays, too, because I'm off from work then” she says. “My work has evolved from fabric collages to watercolor, to acrylic paintings. I often tend to combine media. I have also worked with pastels and oils. Currently, I am working with acrylics, but watercolors continue to capture my heart and creative interest. I'm also beginning to create some pet portraits. In five years, I would love to be able to paint every day. Creating art is like reading a really good book; it sucks you in and you don't want it to end, but you also can't wait to see how it will end.”

A trip west to scenic Sedona, Ariz., provided inspiration for a landscape. Her work titled “Sedona” (mixed media collage, acrylic) was created from memory and recently sold at her exhibit.

“I often paint and create from memory. I would love to go to Hawaii and paint there because the landscape is so different. I lean towards landscapes, I find them relaxing, soothing, and nature is always around.”

Mixed media is another passion of Wladyka's. “I love to take old pieces, paintings, and rip them up and create something new.”

“Stones Suspended 17” is a mixed-media collage of acrylic, stones and watercolor.

Artists who influence Wladyka? “I love Matisse, Salvador Dali and Georgia O'Keefe.”

Andrew says Wladyka is the final visiting-artist exhibit for 2013 and says it has been a popular exhibit since it opened. “Some nice pieces have sold. We had over 170 guests show up at the exhibit opening in early October, and her work has been very well received.”

Wladyka says she enjoys her visits home because the Pittsburgh area has kept its roots, heritage and friendliness. Coming back for her own art show is memorable, she says. “Saxonburg is growing, has a wonderful art community, and I'm happy to be back and participating.”

Joyce Hanz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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