Imagine a place where able artists, from our very own communities, come together to showcase their oft eco-friendly artwork. A place where every handcrafted item you see and touch has a story. Where artists earn equitable compensation and sustainable livings from their work. In this artisans’ utopia, the phrase “starving artist” would hold no meaning, but instead be met with vapid looks from the amazingly talented artists.

Lisa Dodge and Lisa Puccinelli came together to create such a place. The result is American Artworks Gallery in Forest Park (7314 W. Madison St.), “a multimedia showcase designed to help independent artists professionally display their work.” A stunning space, with exposed brick walls and beautifully restored wooden wall panelings, it is the perfect backdrop for exquisite oil paintings, brilliant photography, quirky clothing and other items that will excite your wonder.

Lisa Dodge explains, “This is the purist definition of fair trade. How much better does it get than supporting someone who lives just blocks away from you? There is a need for high-quality, unique gifts all year round, and this gallery offers that and so much more. We support local artisans who create works that are good, products that are green.” 

In 2000 Lisa Dodge graduated from Dominican University with an MBA in Marketing and Product Development. Lisa quickly secured a high-paying job in corporate America, but the precarious economy would eventually mean layoffs at her company, and in March of 2010 she found herself without a job. This turn of events would prove to be an auspicious opportunity for Dodge to shape and sculpt her own life in a meaningful way, using moxie and motivation as her tools.

During her period of unemployment, Lisa attended a career seminar for women that would prove to be the impetus to change the course of her life. At the seminar, Lisa was asked to take a deeper look at her passions, her concerns, and her strengths; then she was asked to think about her own present path. A moment of introspection revealed the following for Lisa: “I love people and I love art. I love helping people get their wares out. I also enjoy instilling confidence in people.” While contemplating this blend of seemingly innocuous and unacquainted ideas, a woman sitting next to her placed a hand on her arm and asked, “Why don’t you open an art gallery?” With a wide smile, Dodge remembers her own answer, “I told her, ‘I’ve been thinking about it.’ The woman said encouragingly, ‘Don’t just think it. Say [you’ll do] it!’” And so she did.

By August, just six short months later, American Artworks Gallery was readying for their grand opening. Enter Lisa Puccinelli. Puccinelli grew up in Oak Park and studied English at the University of Pennsylvania. Dodge met Puccinelli while volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages in Oak Park. Dodge explains, “I knew that Lisa was an artist; she is a potter and she makes jewelry. I also knew that she had a good eye for visual merchandising.”

The lives of Lisa and Lisa converged in Forest Park in a fusion of creative energy. Puccinelli expounds, “I loved the idea of learning about different art forms: what tools are used by painters, sculptors, potters, knitters, and jewelry makers.” Eventually she told Dodge she wanted to join forces. Dodge knew she would be the perfect fit. “We knew what we had to do, and we just did it,” recounts Dodge.  

Puccinelli adds, “I wanted to have time to create art, show my art, as well as join and benefit from the collaborative community. Here the artists receive 70% of proceeds from sales.” She lauds all of AAG’s art pieces for their high level of craftsmanship and points out that when visitors come to shop, they have the unique opportunity to meet the artists who volunteer eight hours a month to satisfy the gallery’s staffing needs and defray operating costs. “We’ve created a collaborative community where artists get to know each other and a culture that is a reflection of our own values.”

Lisa and Lisa are ready for the challenge of growing a fledgling business. Fueled by passion and drive, Dodge is hopeful: “I feel lucky to work with the artists here. We want people to see that there is value here. Expressions of emotion need to be supported. Buying at [American Artworks Galley] is the right thing to do.”

American Artworks Gallery is currently accepting applications from new artists. For more info call 708.557.1761 or contact

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