When you walk into Baldwinsville’s Canal Walk Cafe, you’re surrounded by the talents of local artists in a variety of media: culinary, crafting and paintings just to name a few.
What you may not know is that one of those artists responsible for the eclectic and eye-catching decor is also involved in dishing up your palate’s preference.
Meet your server, Jackie Colello, a gifted painter whose passion involves another kind of palette: color.
She found her niche in college, but wasn’t cognizant of her skills until recently.
“I’ve always been creative. I’ve always created my own cards [and] presents, so let me just dabble in this and see what it’s about,” she said of a painting class she took a few years back as a school elective. “I took it and I was horrible. I was the worst one, and by the end of the semester, my teacher was encouraging me to enter shows and stuff. I was like, ‘You’re crazy.’ I didn’t see what she saw.”
Colello moved to Florida, then California, before returning to Central New York a little more than a year ago. Raised in Liverpool and a graduate of Fayetteville-Manlius, she came to Baldwinsville to be with her mom. She had finally overcome a long history of alcohol abuse through rehabilitation — and faith restored.
“When I was struggling with alcohol, I didn’t know who I was. I was so lost,” she said. “I had a good influence from my mom, but I didn’t know who I was. I go to God now.”
Living in Baldwinsville for the last year has been ideal for Colello, particularly because it’s here where she is realizing her true vocation.
“It was just a perfect place for me to bloom,” she said of B’ville. “Everything is just so tightly knit. I love how everyone looks out for each other. They know each other [on a] first name basis. I love how the people in the post office know you … but I was still discovering Baldwinsville. Though I have a few friends here, what do I do with my extra time? That’s when I started to dabble in painting.”
When Colello first returned to New York, she had the opportunity through Pastor Charity Gustke to paint a mural inside New Heart Ministries on Smokey Hollow Road in Baldwinsville. After the wall was complete, she found canvas. Once her work hit Facebook, she said people began prompting her to sell it.
“I thought, ‘You guys are crazy, who would buy my paintings?’ she said. “But it’s neat because my paintings are bringing inspiration into people’s lives. I’ve seen how my art is being used, not just as a decoration on a wall, but it’s being used to speak to people in positive ways.”
Some pieces Colello has displayed on the walls at the cafe evoke peace and gentleness while others are more vibrant and playful, like a funky giraffe, inspired by her many friends having children these days.
“I’m also inspired to reach people,” she said. “I have one that says ‘Blow Minds’ and it’s blowing colorful glitter at you. I want my paintings to be able to tell people to believe in yourself. Don’t settle for anything.”
Especially women and children, to whom she targets her work.
“I have paintings that say ‘Be-You-tiful’ because girls nowadays have so much on them — the pressures of being a certain way and on Facebook doing inappropriate things. They’re losing that whole — just be yourself. You don’t need to show everything. I gear my paintings to empower women.”
The first painting Colello ever sold went to a woman whose eye it captured on the walls at Cafe at 407 in Liverpool. She said she wanted to hang it in the room of her 4-year-old daughter.
“Our society is so hard on women and I want her to always know she is beautiful just being herself. I want her to be strong,” Colello recalled her saying. “It touched my heart. This is what I want my art to do and it’s already doing it. It gave me chills. It was like confirmation that this is where your arts going to go.”
One customer of Colello’s, a Fayetteville-Manlius native who was going off to medical school, recently commissioned Colello for a custom piece of artwork. Because she had never left this area, she said she wanted something inspiring to remind her of home, but at the same time say, “Go out there and conquer this world!’
“So we did a piece together,” Colello said.
“I do believe that everybody has a creative side to them and they have visions, some people just don’t know how to execute them,” she added. “How awesome would it be to find an artist that you can use as your vehicle and tool to express whatever it may be that you’re going through in life? Whether it’s a horrible divorce or you lost your family or child, or something amazing just happened to you and you find this artist and you want to remember this. This is what I’m going through. That’s what it’s like when I’m doing commissioned work. It’s like being in a mini relationship with them every time.”
When she consults with her customers, Colello asks a lot of questions to get to know the person inside. “What in this world makes you fall in love? Catches your eye and you’re so in awe with? For me, it’s the sky. For others, it’s birds, feathers, bridges, whatever. I ask them that so I can see what is the beauty in life that they see,” she said. “That’s how we start our relationship. I start to see this person likes softer things, they like these colors …”
Colello’s fees vary. She said she always wants her work to be affordable but at the same time she needs to charge enough to make a living for herself. Additionally, Colello said she hopes to speak in local schools someday about the severity of drugs and alcohol and how dangerous they can be.
“I would love to tell my story to children and maybe get involved in afterschool programs and do arts and crafts with them, “ she said, emphasizing that she’d like to reach out to them at their most impressionable age. “[I want] to be an inspiration somehow … [and] if my story of struggle, courage and change can help them, then I want to speak out to them.”
Artwork to be displayed
Colello is in the process of creating her Facebook and Etsy page, with plans to launch both on her 30th birthday, March 13. Until then and throughout the entire month of March, Colello’s artwork will be displayed at Cafe at 407, located at 407 Tulip St. in the village of Liverpool.
Her work is always on display, however, at Canal Walk Cafe, whose owner she deems a mentor.
“[Dawn Custer] is an amazing woman to work for. She’s very insightful and she has taught me things that my generation lacks,” Colello said. “For an older generation, they may look at mine like we are lacking a kind of common sense and in a [way] we do because we’re so geared toward technology that we’re missing the basics.”
Custer, who is known for her whole food and homemade cooking at the restaurant, seems to have taken Colello under her wing.
“Working at Canal, I’m learning just the basic stuff in life, like when it comes to the kitchen and cooking and cleaning and thinking outside the box … leaning on your own understanding. It’s been trying for me and I’ve grown a lot and I’ve kind of realized wow, I really don’t know everything.
“Dawn’s been teaching me — just looking at what she’s making and sampling her food throughout the day and just being around it, what goes with what — it’s an art in itself.”
To reach Colello about her artwork or to arrange speaking engagements in schools, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her work can currently be seen on Instagram, #colellocreations.