It all started with a sewing project when she was a 9-year-old Girl Scout. Now at the age of 14, Luisa Castellanos is something of a seasoned artist whose work has fetched rave reviews at art shows and galleries from Chicago to Seattle.
This weekend the high school freshman will make her Forest Park debut as one of about 60 artists participating in an inaugural arts festival organized by the Main Street Redevelopment Association. The event is a first-of-its-kind for the village and is intended to lure new crowds, new revenue and new culture to the Madison Street corridor.
Castellanos’ cuddly, somewhat abstract and brightly colored toys fit that vision of drawing artists and purveyors by appealing to hipsters of all ages.
“What impressed us with her is not how old she is but how good her plush is,” Kirby Kerr, owner of a designer toy store in Chicago said. “Conceptually, the stuff she does is a little out there, it’s a little crazy. Our customers really connect with that.”
Castellanos began working with Kerr at Rotofugi Designer Toys and Gallery when she was just 11 years old. Her parents stumbled onto the place during a visit to the city and a few weeks later they met with the owners. Her work is a consistent seller and employees avoid exploiting Castellanos’ age as a gimmick to boost sales.
Roz Long is a marketing agent largely responsible for assembling the group of artists scheduled for the Sept. 29 festival. For the last 11 years she has organized the Elmhurst Art Museum’s annual Art in the Park event. Long is also a longtime friend of the Castellanos’ family and said the teenager’s work stands up just fine next to other adult plush artists.
“It’s fascinating,” Long said of Castellanos’ work. “It’s fun, it’s comical, it’s humorous.”
Castellanos lives with her parents in Elmhurst and in so many ways is a typical high school freshman. She listens to pop music, is learning to play the guitar and takes dance classes after school. Where she veers from the norm is in her creativity and the ability to express that with a sewing machine.
In elementary school she sewed by hand and used pieces of felt to make iPod holders for her classmates. Ever the entrepreneur, she sold these for a small fee to buy new materials and try new patterns. When she discovered Uglydoll, a wildly popular line of designer plush toys, Castellanos was inspired to give it a shot.
Lately, she is trying her hand at painting and collaborated with an urban artist from Chicago for a gallery show.
“I just think of it, I don’t really know how to explain it,” Castellanos said of her ideas. “It just kind of comes to me.”
Those attending the Forest Park Arts Fest can expect to see most of Castellanos work from the last several months. She began working on some 25 pieces during the summer to prepare for this weekend’s festival.
“I’m probably going to bring everything I have,” Castellanos said.
One of her biggest sellers is a line of plush toys she calls Fuzzums. They’re smaller in size and sell for $10 or $15 each, Castellanos said, and are very popular with younger kids. Her Pock-it Palz strike a chord with customers of all ages and this weekend Castellanos is planning to debut some of her brush work. Painted canvas and painted fiber is a new medium for the young artist.
“It kind of surprises people that I’m so young, but I think they’re interested by it,” Castellanos said.