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Sewickley teen's art helps her deal with challenges of epilepsy

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 3:39 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Gia Veltre, 16, of Sewickley poses for a photo among her artwork at Sewickley Gallery & Frame Shop on Beaver Street in Sewickley Friday, March 7, 2014. Veltre's art will be on display through March 15.

When everything else is hard, art comes naturally to Gia Veltre.

“It feels great,” said the Quaker Valley High School sophomore who uses her passion to deal with not-so-great things in life, such as epilepsy.

Because Gia, 16, “loves art more than anything” and because the brain disorder has become a “big, scary part” of her life, she combined both in a personal project at school.

She learned silk-screening and several pieces she made using the technique, along with paintings and drawings, are exhibited at Sewickley Gallery & Frame Shop.

Proceeds from sales and any donations will go to Pittsburgh-based Epilepsy Foundation of Western/Central Pennsylvania.

“Gia walked into our art gallery and immediately impressed us with her talent and maturity,” gallery owner Mark Rengers said.

“Her seizure disorder inspired some of her artwork, and knowing that allowed us to better understand her pieces. It is an honor to host Gia not only for her class project but, most importantly, for the beginning of her life's works.”

Diagnosed with epilepsy last year, Gia, daughter of Delia and Rob Veltre of Sewickley, has been trying to deal with multiple seizures and finding correct medication combinations.

She also has tried to make fellow students understand how the disorder affects her, do school work when her thoughts are “fuzzy” or her memory fails and deal with emotions and fears.

But she has her art, which she calls a “huge coping mechanism.”

The exhibit includes 24 pieces, featuring silk-screened works along with paintings and drawings of people Gia said she “made up in my head.”

Silk-screening involves using a lighting table to transfer an image to a silk screen that has been stretched across a grooved frame.

That image then is printed onto fabric or paper, by using a squeegee to pull the ink over the screen.

Gia's “Abby Normal” silk-screen prints feature numerous brain images to symbolize epilepsy, to represent how complex the brain is and “how little we actually know about it,” she said.

Abby Normal was the name given to an abnormal brain in the movie “Young Frankenstein.”

Other prints portray quotes and images of Holden Caulfield, a main character in her favorite book, “The Catcher in the Rye,”by J.D. Salinger. Others feature elephants, and Gia used a deep red background on another to offset the words “A Film By Woody Allen, Annie Hall,” an image of Allen and his quote, “I don't respond well to mellow.”

She said she was inspired to learn silk-screen printing after seeing artist Andy Warhol's work in the Andy Warhol Museum.

Gia, who has made ceramic and sculpture projects and sold some of her other work, said learning the new skill wasn't easy but her project mentor Robin Russell, Quaker Valley High School art teacher, taught her.

She said she wants to study art in college but after graduation, she doesn't want to be tied down to one job or career. She wants to continue to learn new things, travel and stay excited about life.

“I just want to jump around and see what there is,” she said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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