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By Anna Lothson
Sallie Wolf understands the charm that draws people to downtown Oak Park.
For more than three decades, the longtime Oak Parker has enjoyed the colorful shops, vibrant groups of people, eclectic restaurants, and the neighborhood-like atmosphere just miles from the city.
When the Downtown Oak Park Association sent out a notice last November that it was seeking an artist for three pieces of original art that could be reproduced in various marketing materials, ads and street pole banners downtown, Wolf accepted the challenge by submitting pieces she knew captured the place she'd grown to love.
"This is not a strip-mall city – this is a real place with history and a lot of good people," Wolf said on a recent afternoon at Calypso Moon Studio, her workplace at 331 Harrison St. "Oak Park as a whole is a really crafty community."
More than a dozen artists submitted work for the commission pieces and Wolf secured the spot for the authenticity her work captured.
"It was kind of light hearted," said Pat Zubak, executive director of Downtown Oak Park. "It depicted a happy vision of downtown Oak Park. It's just really attractive. Everyone felt drawn to what she did."
It was not known that Wolf was a local artist when her work was submitted since the art was selected anonymously, but the selection committee was pleased when they learned she was a resident.
Incorporating local artists into the association's promotional materials started last year as a way to showcase the village's sites in a new method. Zubak said it was important to use sketches or paintings instead of photography since it "captures the spirit" in a more inclusive and engaging manner.
"We really like the way that [Wolf's paintings] captures the feeling of downtown Oak Park," Zubak said.
It may be Wolf's similar philosophy toward photography that helped her nab the job since she too believes that creating art organically with a pencil and paint helps portray a more accurate perspective.
"Drawing is a much better way to record it," Wolf said. "A lot of what I'm doing is staying immersed with what I love when I'm not there. I really love putting paint on a part of paper… It's more microscopic. I love to watch how it evolves; see where the paint goes on paper."
That's what she did when she spent a week outside the Lake Theatre absorbing the culture, sketching every detail and securing an image she could later recall while finishing in her studio.
"I spent significant time sitting there absorbing what is this place and why it is appealing – [asking myself] what do I love about it," she said, holding a variety of different attempts she made to recreate it.
Wolf will see that work on an even larger scale as it will likely be displayed downtown by June and will be used until a new artist is chosen next year.
"It's cool to be an Oak Park artist," Wolf said. "I can tell everyone that's my work."
To see more of Wolf's art, visit her website at salliewolf.com.